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Have been on a roll re-visiting and watching Russian/Soviet film, for interest and nostalgia reasons, especially fantasy. Having started watching a lot, mostly fantasy and animation, six years ago and getting such a lot out of it. Some of which have touches of comedy and a good deal of which also being surreal. Have seen a good deal of director Aleksandr Rou's work, and have liked to loved all seen, which as of now has been most.
'May Nights', based upon the short story (the third in the collection "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka") by Nikolai Gogol, is among Rou's best to me, one of his most accessible and entertaining. It brought back all those fond memories seeing all the Russian fantasies and animation viewed six years ago, and one of my absolute favourites of the "re-visiting" period. Like Rou's other work, 'May Nights' entertains and charms with enough imaginative touches to give it a sense of wonder. There is a strangeness at times, being another one of his surreal fantasies, but not in a way that gets too overly weird or affects the coherence of the storytelling. It is very short, running just a little over an hour, some may consider that length too short. Not to me, with the original story's content lending itself ideally to not being feature length.
It is a well made film visually and has held up well. The scenery makes one pine for a trip to Russia and the settings are the very meaning of wondrous, enhanced further by photography that is never too flashy or overblown nor simplistic or static and beautiful use of colour. The effects are not overused or abused and do have a magical charm, don't think they've dated at all. The music is atmospheric, whimsical and infectious, as well as appealing to listen to and not detracting at all from what's happening.
Also highly successful is the writing and storytelling. The writing never becomes over-complicated and the comedy is very funny and deftly timed. The story has a sense of wonder and has a lot of heart and charm, moving swiftly and never feeling tiresome. Some of it gets complicated but it never becomes incoherent. There is more of a surreal touch here than in the original story, with the mysterious forces including witches, rusalki and even Satan, but not in a way that's too bizarre or detracts.
Characters are always engaging and ones worth caring for and while the acting is slightly theatrical, especially from the suitably obstinate mayor, it still suits the characters and their personalities very well and there is a lot of spirit in the portrayals.
Overall, one slice of May Night mayhem that made me happy. 10/10
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