ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.12 - MARCH 2001
There Once Was A Man Called Pjotr Sapegin
(continued from page 4)
Fishballs, a film Sapegin shot in 1 1/2 days on 35 mm leftover film.
Following Fishballs, Sapegin made Mons the Cat, his first international 'hit.' Mons the Cat is based on a Norwegian folk tale. After refusing to eat his catfish, Mons in turn chews up the entire village community until he explodes á là Monty Python and everything returns to normal...a dream. Mons now enjoys his catfish without complaints.
A haunting nightmarish tale of a hyper consumer living on overdrive within a wild, free flowing capitalist marketplace? Maybe, but Sapegin was more interested in the cat. "The cat as an animal is the perfect anti-hero because it is basically a nasty character. He kills, he steals, he isn't really faithful, he never serves, but at the same time he's so loveable. If you see a cat eating a mouse, that's when the cat is at his best, he's nice, he's smiling, he looks very, very cute." Just like a tycoon as he is taking down another country.
Mons was shot in only four weeks, but Sapegin spent about two months just trying to figure out how to end the story: "In Mons the Cat I used the actual media of animation as an expressive tool, as a storytelling tool. And then I said, 'Ah, hah,' that's where a lot of things are hidden in animation, so you have to see why you are making this film not in live-action but in animation, what possibilities it gives you, how you can play with an environment with the reality of animation."
With Mons, we see Sapegin's most concerted use of mobile, multi-coloured backgrounds that sweep in and out of each scene. Originally, Sapegin had intended to make the backgrounds entirely in clay, but his "rotten clay" was too soft and would not hold a solid form. So Sapegin heated the clay with a lighter and used it as crayons on a glass surface. He would use this technique again in The Saltmill.
As might be expected, Sapegin works with very few people. "The ideal set is that I have one more person working with me, and this person is some kind of orchestra leader." At the moment, Sapegin's team consists of Janne Hansen, a Volda College graduate. Sapegin also works with Lisa Fearnley, who shot One Day a Man Bought a House. "She is a an exceptional, exceptional photographer."
What is perhaps most remarkable about Mons the Cat is the quality of the clay animation. It seems incredible that an artist with no previous animation experience could master the medium so quickly. But as always there is a little secret. A former colleague in Moscow used to work with clay and while Sapegin never saw her work, he did see her puppets at home. "We'd been making some toys for kids and I sort of stole a lot of her aesthetic in a way. But I also thought that if I worked with animation ever I would try to make it as close to live-action as possible. When you look at real people out in the street they are made out of different material, which by definition is different from the environment they live in, so I thought I will probably try to find an environment which is contradictory to the physical substance of the characters. That's why I went for clay, because also of my theatre modeling experience. That's where my backgrounds actually came from, from theatre models."
In 1997, Sapegin finished One Day a Man Bought a House, a love story told in an unconventional and comedic manner.
A Loving Rat
One Day a Man Bought a House is a twisted tale about a man who moves into a house only to discover another occupant: a rat. Unwilling to share his new home, the man embarks on a series of methods to exterminate the rat. However, each murderous gesture (including the use of the infamous Malaysian pitbull cat) is mistaken as a sign of affection. The rat, a woman, soon believes that the man loves her. She dolls herself up, approaches the man and they marry and live happily ever after.
Sapegin wrote the original story and his wife re-wrote it for the film. The story was actually made in 1995 and was in production for almost three years. This perverse bestial fairy tale is actually based on a true story...well, sort of. "The story came out of an accident when I had to kill a rat, and I tried to persuade her with a sausage and she ate the sausage then I couldn't kill her because I thought she now thinks that I'm a nice guy."
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