There aren’t many animators out there who would make a movie that justifies the murder of annoying people, but that’s precisely what Russian filmmaker Fyodor Khitruk did with this breakthrough movie Story of One Crime (1962), which you can watch above. The film, about an unassuming clerk who snaps and kills his loud, inconsiderate neighbors with a frying pan, was a landmark in Russia and not just because of its critique of Soviet society -- something utterly unthinkable during Stalin’s reign just nine years prior. Unlike previous Russian animated movies – which were largely Marxism-espousing Disney knockoffs – this film presented a clean, modern visual style that seemed more influenced by the likes of Paul Klee than by Disney. The movie shook up the world of Soviet animation and helped start a rebirth of the industry.
Over his long career (he died in 2012 at the age of 95) Khitruk made two kinds of movies: cartoons for children – his most famous being his stylized adaptation of Winnie the Pooh – and socially-aware satires. One in the latter category is his short The Island (1973), which you can see above. At first blush, it looks like the premise for a New Yorker cartoon – a hairy looking castaway is stuck on a comically small island with a single palm tree. As the movie progresses, a parade of people pass through but don’t help. As the guy gets embroiled in an art heist, converted by missionaries, colonized by an invading army and marketed to by merchants hawking useless goods, it becomes increasingly clear that the titular island is less a sandy spot in the sea than a metaphor for societal isolation. The Island ended up winning the Palme d'Or for the best short at the 1974 Cannes film festival.
Another one of Khitruk’s shorts is Man in the Frame (1966), a movie that anyone who has ever endured office politics in a large corporation, or the politburo, can relate to. Drawn in a style that recalls Fernand Leger and Saul Steinberg, the movie’s nameless protagonist rises higher and higher within a bureaucracy only to lose something in the process. You can watch it below.You can also find these Khitruk creations on our list of Animated Films, part of our larger collection called 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.