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The Glass Harmonica (1968)

Steklyannaya garmonika (original title)
A craftsman builds a glass harmonica that enlightens him. He travels to a town where the people are obsessed with money. A bureaucrat smashes the glass harmonica which leads to chaos and eventually to social reform.
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A craftsman builds a glass harmonica that enlightens him. He travels to a town where the people are obsessed with money. A bureaucrat smashes the glass harmonica which leads to chaos and eventually to social reform.

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Animation | Short

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1968 (Soviet Union)  »

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The Glass Harmonica  »

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"Once the craftsman came to a town whose citizens were in thrall to a yellow devil"
13 December 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Andrey Khrzhanovskiy's 'The Glass Harmonica (1968)' is a very political piece of animation, and I know too little about the history of the Soviet Union to make any accurate interpretations of the film's meaning. However, I'm going to have a go at it, anyway. The craftsman of the glass harmonica arrives in a town whose citizens have become corrupted by and obsessed with the lure of money (symbolised by a single gold coin held in the hand of a shifty-looking bureaucrat). The love of wealth has transformed these people into grotesque and disgusting beasts, who roam throughout the streets thinking only of money. This, I'd imagine, would be a critique of capitalism, certainly something that one would expect from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. When the craftsman returns to the town with his harmonica, the melodious tune of his instrument brings back the humanity of its inhabitants. They break out of their beastly cocoons, becoming beautiful human beings once again; one person offers his coat and hat to a homeless man.

Together, the townsfolk restore their clock-tower to its former glory, perhaps symbolising the rejuvenation and preservation of Russia's culture and history (once money became the town's chief concern, the clock-tower was the first monument to be stripped and defaced, presumably for monetary gain). All this seems like a perfectly acceptable message for Soyuzmultfilm studio under the Soviet Union. However, my research is telling me that 'The Glass Harmonica' suffered strict censorship and was initially withheld from release. There must be a more subtle subtext that I'm missing. Perhaps the film's depiction of a cold totalitarian society struck the censors as being far too familiar for comfort; what was supposedly a critique of the Bourgeois was instead an attack on the oppressive Soviet government. Whatever the politics, Khrzhanovskiy's film nonetheless deserves to be watched for its unique and surreal visuals and stirring classical score. The people are animated as rather sterile painted portraits that only exhibit fractured movements, though they take on a more realistic and romantic appearance after hearing the music of the glass harmonica.


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