When asked in an interview whether he ever intended to return to his Motherland, Joseph Brodsky replied: “Such a journey could only take place anonymously…”
The creators of this film imagined that the journey in question was undertaken after all, selecting the genre of an ironic fairytale. The poet sails to the country of his childhood, and with him we traverse not only geographical expanses, but travel through time as well; stringing together a number of facts from the Nobel Prize Laureate’s biography, we return to the USSR of the 50s and early 60s, soaking up the atmosphere of the “European” city of Petersburg, to this day Russia’s cultural center. Along with live-action sequences, the film features animation, as well as documentary footage concerning Brodsky and his milieu.
Some of the animated sequences — of winged horses and flying sleds, of Brodsky as a farm animal on all fours drawing a cart — suggest Chagall. Other, more elegant pictures — of pianos and other musical instruments flying in formation while framed against the heroic architecture of St. Petersburg — are closer to Magritte’s surrealism. Visually, it is an ode to St. Petersburg (its museums, architecture and statuary are lovingly photographed), and to the Neva River, which runs by the city.
With its unabashedly nostalgic glow, the film belongs to what might be called the “rosebud” school (after “Citizen Kane”) of film biographies that locate the essence of a life in childhood memories. Recurrent images in the film are visual representations of the family’s house cat. The youthful Brodsky (Evgeniy Ogandzhanyan) is shown conversing with his father in meows and later subverting the solemnity of a school anthem sung by a chorus by substituting cat cries for words. He later confides to a friend that he wants to be reincarnated as a cat in Venice.