Thursday, October 06, 2022

The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin, Georgia’s National Epic Animated

Shota Rustaveli's The Knight in the Panther’s Skin is sort of like the Georgian Troilus and Criseyde. Like Chaucer’s heroic verse, it chronicles lovers separated by war and strife, but Rustaveli’s epic poem is arguably of far greater importance to Georgian literature than Chaucer’s epic is to English letters. It spans years and oceans, so it is maybe not so surprising the first film adaptation of the modern age is animated. If Prince Tariel and his beloved Nestan are not reunited, the good knight Avtandil will at least die trying in Mirza Davitaia’s The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin, which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Rustaveli’s epic is often referred to as
The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, but Davitaia’s film and his graphic novel before it drapes the knight in “Tiger’s Skin.” The tiger print must be slimming. It is definitely the same classic story. When we first meet Tariel, the Prince dutifully serves his king, whose daughter he ardently loves and is loved in return. When the king repays their loyalty by marrying her off as part of a diplomatic alliance, both react badly.

As a result, Nestan’s aunt angrily sells her into slavery, but is almost immediately overcome by such remorse, she commits suicide. Tariel soon sets off in search of his distressed love, but as the years pass, he also seemingly disappears from the world. It will be the herculean task of the brave knight Avtandil to find them both, before he will be allowed to marry his own great love.

It is easy to see many heroic archetypes
Tiger’s Skin shares with other great epic poems, but Davitaia’s adaptation also expresses pronounced themes of martial comradery and manly fellowship. Eventually, it comes down to three friends storming a Dungeons & Dragons-worthy stronghold to rescue the Princess.

Davitaia’s animation incorporates rotoscoping techniques that are surprisingly effective. It intensifies the vibrancy of the colors and the contrasts between them. The exotic scenes of the various royal courts and palaces pop off the screen, almost like Peter Max paintings. The animation also conveys the chaos and intensity of the battle scenes, which have appropriately epic scope.

The major drawback is the informal, colloquial language employed for the English translated dub. The tone is common rather than lofty, which leads to a disconnect between what the audience sees and hears. Average viewers wouldn’t think it sounds anything like epic poetry.

Tiger’s Skin
truly arrives at an opportune time. Georgia was already the first target of Putin’s illegal military aggression, as was dramatized in the under-appreciated 5 Days of War (which Davitaia produced)—and they are keenly mindful they could be the next to face a full-scale invasion. A major part of Putin’s playbook has been an assault on national cultures, so the more the world learns about Georgian and Ukrainian art and literature, the greater the pushback will be against his propaganda.

Davitaia’s take on Avtandil’s epic quest features some cool animation and rousing heroic fantasy, so it is a super-accessible film to start with. Highly recommended for fans of animation and Medieval epics in the
Beowulf-Song of Roland tradition, The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin opens tomorrow (10/7) at the Laemmle Glendale.