Eine Mural / Breakfast on the Grass (2011)

Estonia’s unstoppable animators recreate Edouard Manet’s morning masterpiece once more – with extra tipple, finds Ian Francis.

Ian Francis

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In Pollock-spattered woodland, four figures are in a state of continual collapse. To the distorted strains of Ravel’s Bolero, we see them teeter and then crumble to the floor again and again. Face-down on the ground, an old man retains enough self-awareness to adjust his flat cap. A woman snags her top on a branch, and is swiftly disrobed. A visual punchline arrives with the climax of the music, as the four arrange themselves into the waterside tableau of Manet’s painting Dejeuner sur l’Herbe.

Propulsive, high-concept, funny, and four minutes long, Breakfast on the Grass is right at home on the internet and yet it has roots in another time, when adult animation could only be seen at festivals and on late-night TV. It was made by four students under the influence and supervision of esteemed Estonian animator Priit Pärn, and it’s easy to imagine that their short grew out of a classroom screening of Parn’s work; in particular his 1987 film of the same name, which also ends with a Manet moment.

These are two very different breakfasts. The earlier – and much longer – work is split into four chapters, each named after a character. Before converging on the inevitable picnic all of them are on some kind of futile chase, pursuing apples, or balloons, or a new suit, and the world they inhabit is suspicious, grey and subject to mysterious, invisible laws. There’s sharp social comment here, but Pärn wouldn’t want his film to be taken simply as a snapshot of mid-80s Soviet living. He’s casting his net far wider, dissecting a form of dissatisfaction found on either side of the Iron Curtain. 

In the ‘remake’ this anti-materialist anger has been buried under the slapstick, but it hasn’t disappeared. There’s something very familiar about these hopeless puppets weighed down by shopping bags, and the arc of their collapse is sketched out with such care by the animators that you suspect many months have been spent observing drunks in the field. Having seen his influence go west during the 90s thanks to the Ukrainians and Hungarians who made Duckman and Rugrats, Pärn once again has the pleasure of seeing his distinctive worldview repurposed – this time for the age of Vimeo Staff Picks.

Breakfast on the Grass is screening in ‘Edgeless Shapes’, a programme of animated shorts at the Electric Cinema on Wednesday 27 and Friday 29 March as part of the 2013 Flatpack Festival, of which Ian Francis is director.

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