Magical Memory Tour

01/20/2010 4:30 AM |

A Room and a Half

Directed by Andrey Khrzhanovsky

The writer in exile emerged as a romantic figure over the last century, providing soundbite-ready evidence that art can be a vessel for a society’s jeopardized soul. But while this collision of tortured artist and sweeping political backdrop seems like perfect fodder for many a biopic, it also risks accentuating what people hate about the genre: its tendency toward monumentalism, and its simplification of history through the lens of individual heroism.

A Room and a Half is the kind of imaginative, richly textured work that can result from obsessively circumventing these biographical formulas. In the hands of veteran animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky, the life of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky serves as a guide for an entire nation’s magical memory tour, with archival material acquiring a surreal quality alongside the author’s fictionalized coming-of-age story and charming animated interludes. Handcrafted crows and CGI musical instruments soar through the air, filling the chasm opened up by an estranged homeland and irretrievable past with images of childlike whimsy.

Coming across at times like a metaphysical pop-up book, this disarmingly playful film strives to mimic Brodsky’s aesthetic and philosophical vision. The writer was expelled from the USSR for representing artistic autonomy in a culture ruled by propaganda, but even when he became a naturalized American citizen, he refused to pigeonhole himself as a poet of political dissent. Khrzhanovsky makes cinema seem like the ideal sanctuary for Brodsky’s spiritual preoccupations, and treats this medium of light and shadow as if it were uniquely equipped to transcend the flesh-and-blood realities of political persecution and family separation.

Opens January 20 at Film Forum