(Russia 2021; Dir: Sasha Svirsky)

Vadim on a Walk

Squared freedom

review by Mariana Hristova

Vadim on a Walk

length: 8

year of production: 2021

country of production: Russia

director: Sasha Svirsky

production: Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Nikolay Makovsky, Nadezhda Svirskaia

editing: Sasha Svirsky

sound: Alexey Prosvirnin

music: Alexey Prosvirnin

cast: Alexey Prosvirnin

festivals: Berlinale 2021, Go Short 2021, Short Waves Festival 2021

© images: Vadim on a Walk (Sasha Svirsky, School – Studio Shar)

A human being locked inside a box, suffering anxiety attacks caused by the single thought of having to come out into the big hostile world: one can hardly think of a more eloquent metonymy for the ubiquitous post-lockdown pandemic state of mind that mankind is currently experiencing, without pointing at it explicitly. Perhaps, many of us could identify with this awkward mood; mingling excitement of the forthcoming freedom with sudden fear that the insanity of the world out there will swallow us again. Тhis might be the best time to watch Sasha Svirsky’s latest short animation ‘Vadim on a Walk’ which premiered at this year’s Berlinale and is currently part of Short Waves Festival’s international competition, as it portrays in a pictorial manner the ambiguity of those feelings.

However, the instant association with the 2020 lockdown and its mental consequences is rather a random match since the short treats more and wider topics, such as the challenge of leaving one’s comfort zone and the impossibility of maintaining a free spirit in an only superficially civilized society which otherwise follows the laws of natural selection. Stuck inside a tight square space for so long (unable to remember how long exactly), the greyish protagonist Vadim (resembling a computer game character in his appearance, voice and gestures) concludes that “even my facial hair hasn’t grown inside” – emphasizing how hermetic has been the cocoon he has been inhabiting so far. But something has irreversibly changed and he needs to leave his suffocating, yet protective cell.

A pile of questions on the dangers beyond the transparent walls start dizzying his mind and come out of his mouth, accompanied by zooming frames and rapid editing that produces an alarming sensation. Out of the box, his body changes by taking different shapes as if its testing the abilities for free movements in a free space, although the square geometry is still chasing him. Color gets introduced to the film’s palette too and after a short happy stroll through a bright pink-green area and trees with crowns made out of squares (again), Vadim metamorphoses into a jumping gazelle that will soon meet its lion — both turning into a metaphor for the power relations between the free spirited and the rules establishers; employees and employers; individuals and institutions.

“Is there anything more natural than the power of the powerful over the powerless?” is probably the most memorable phrase heard in ‘Vadim on a Walk’. In the neoliberal world where values have primarily economic dimensions, God has been replaced by the employer since he’s paying the bills, and is seen as a natural legislator who established rules and “normality”. Naturally, by following the logic of the unsatisfiable market. Thus, in short time and after a “constructive” whipping received from his boss, Vadim feels the urge to come back to his work in order to do what he ought to. The “ought to” command, it seems, is what puts him back in shape, what brings meaning into his life. Tossing and swinging while undergoing a constant reshaping of his body, suddenly Vadim has four arms and four legs, tools for executing a double amount of workload and multitask what is demanded, in order to come back to the formative box again, grey and focused, with an undistracted mind. And protected again. Game over for the free spirit trial.

Such a plot with a rebellious touch and bitter conclusions could only be conceived by an artist who not just thinks but also lives out of the box, so to have a full grasp on the surrounding life and conduct a sober reflection. Sasha Svirsky, the self-taught, highly productive and unique in his style contemporary Russian animator who lives in a small village and leaves it only to travel the biggest world festivals with his films, does it for real. With the help of his wife Nadezhda Svirskaya, the producer of most of his films, he piled up an impressive body of work of about twenty films in thirteen years — stylistically and philosophically inspired by the anecdotal caricatures of the Saint Petersburg’s art group Mitki, Paul Klee’s geometrical paintings, collages and experimental film.

Since his very first comic-like animation ‘Bandits’ (2008) and the imaginative anti-utopia ‘Mirs-Pirs’ (2009), Svirsky is obviously interested in characters looking for their way around the system and inhabiting parallel, sometimes delusional worlds. Their ambiences are often spiced up by Alexey Prosvirin’s atmospheric compositions who is Svirsky’s friend and the usual soundtrack collaborator for his work. ‘Vadim on a Walk’, produced by the legendary Andrey Krzhanovsky’s Shar Studio, mirrors our overly protected and protective, therefore strictly controlled and hierarchical societies that limit human frivolousness in favor of robotic servility. Its eclectic 2D graphic aesthetics, unpredictably intervened by collage-resembling images, reminds of a computer game where the protagonist’s mission is not to advance towards further goals but to return to the starting point. So that the cycle for the powerless could go on as the powerful have decided for them.