Alexander Pushkin’s Poem “The Mermaid” Brought to Life in a Masterfully Hand-Painted Animation

Though his name may not car­ry much weight in Eng­lish speak­ing circles—his virtues “lost in trans­la­tion”—no Russ­ian writer stood as high in his time as Alexan­der Pushkin (1799–1837). In his short life of 37 years, Pushkin—the great grand­son of a cap­tured African prince—authored two of his coun­try’s most revered and influ­en­tial works, the play Boris Godunov and the nov­el in verse Eugene One­gin. Like a char­ac­ter in that lat­ter work, the eru­dite noble­man poet met his death at the hands of a sup­posed roman­tic rival “on a win­ter evening,” writes Phoebe Taplin in The Tele­graph, when he “trav­elled by sleigh from Nevsky Prospekt to the Black Riv­er area of St. Peters­burg, then filled with woods and dachas, where Georges D’Anthès fatal­ly wound­ed him in the stom­ach.”

Pushkin wrote as pas­sion­ate­ly as he lived—and died. (That final duel was the last of twen­ty-nine he fought). His work remains vis­cer­al­ly com­pelling, even in trans­la­tion: into oth­er lan­guages, oth­er gen­res, and oth­er media, as in the ani­mat­ed film above of a short poem of Pushk­in’s called Rusal­ka, or “The Mer­maid.” Ani­mat­ed in a mas­ter­ful hand-paint­ed style by Russ­ian artist and film­mak­er Alexan­der Petrov, the film tells the sto­ry of a monk who falls in love with a beau­ti­ful and dan­ger­ous myth­i­cal water spir­it. You can read a para­phrase, trans­la­tion, and inter­pre­ta­tion of the poem here. I rec­om­mend watch­ing the ten-minute film first. Though pre­sent­ed in Russ­ian with­out sub­ti­tles, you will—even if you don’t speak Russian—find your­self seduced.

Petrov, who painstak­ing­ly paints his images on glass with oils, has also adapt­ed the work of oth­er dra­mat­ic writ­ers, includ­ing anoth­er fel­low Russ­ian artist, Dos­to­evsky. His take on Hem­ing­way’s The Old Man and the Sea won an Acad­e­my Award in 2000, and most deserved­ly so. Petrov does not adapt lit­er­ary works so much as he trans­lates them into light, shad­ow, and sound, immers­ing us in their tex­tures and images. His Rusal­ka, just like the poem on which it’s based, speaks direct­ly to our imag­i­na­tions.

Find more lit­er­ary ani­ma­tions in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch a Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion of Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridicu­lous Man”

Crime and Pun­ish­ment by Fyo­dor Dos­toyevsky Told in a Beau­ti­ful­ly Ani­mat­ed Film by Piotr Dumala

Niko­lai Gogol’s Clas­sic Sto­ry, “The Nose,” Ani­mat­ed With the Aston­ish­ing Pin­screen Tech­nique (1963)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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