Snowy Hunters Everywhere.

Less than a week into the existence of this blog, I posted about the workings of coincidence (see also Apophenia, from 2005); now I’ve got another splendid example. For over a month now I’ve been hacking away at Sokolov’s Между собакой и волком (see this post) with the invaluable help of (inter alia) Boguslawski’s valiant translation Between Dog and Wolf; I quote the following from his introduction (p. xxi):

The best example of a recurrent visual image is the ekphrastic description of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow, which provides a detailed portrayal of the setting of the novel in chapter 2 and is skillfully repeated in Note XVII. It becomes a source of many reappearing images in the novel (birds, boats, skaters, a frozen river and ponds, hunters and hunting dogs, a tavern) and, in addition, provides a connection to the theme of the seasons, since Bruegel created the famous painting as a part of the series called Months and depicted in it activities common in December and January.

Well, Barnes & Noble is having a 50% off sale on all Criterion Blu-rays and DVDs through August 1, and being an aficionado of Criterion’s superb editions I put together an order that included one of my favorite movies, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Зеркало (Mirror), and the last movie by another of my favorite directors, Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames. I knew nothing about the latter, but Criterion describes it enticingly:

Setting out to reconstruct the moments immediately before and after a photograph is taken, Kiarostami selected twenty-four still images—most of them stark landscapes inhabited only by foraging birds and other wildlife—and digitally animated each one into its own subtly evolving four-and-a-half-minute vignette, creating a series of poignant studies in movement, perception, and time. A sustained meditation on the process of image making, 24 Frames is a graceful and elegiac farewell from one of the giants of world cinema.

So I was excited to get the package today, and I tore off the plastic coverings and checked out the beautifully illustrated booklets they tuck into each box. The one for Mirror reminded me of an element I’d forgotten: “Alexei’s anecdotal recollection of a snowy day during the war prompts a visual echo of the composition of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow.” Huh, I thought. Then I turned to the Kiarostami and found in Bilge Ebiri’s essay:

The first frame begins with Dutch master Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s immortal sixteenth-century painting Hunters in the Snow, a winter scene of a group of men and dogs looking over a small village beside a frozen lake. Slowly, Kiarostami’s digital embellishments emerge. Smoke rises from a chimney. A bird flits among the branches of a tree. A dog starts sniffing around. A herd of cows lumbers along in the distance. But amid all this movement, the figures of the original painting stand motionless. The hunters carry the same poses they did in 1565. Some birds may hop among the trees, but one remains frozen in the sky, captured midflight by Brueghel 450 years ago, its wings spread out forever.

I’m not saying it Means anything, but tell me that isn’t weird.


  1. John Emerson says

    The French poet Aloysius Bertrand (whose pen name was deliberately precious, per lesser romantic custom), wrote a book of prose poems keyed on old masters, Gaspsrd de la Nuit, and they had this stop-time effect. He also experimented with photography, which may have given the idea.

  2. John Emerson says

    It’s slow here, so I’ll just add that I think that the Northern Renaissance is far superior to the idealizing, Neoplatonic Italian Renaissance, and that Bruegel, however you spell his name, is the greatest of the Northern Renaissance artists, and that this is his greatest painting.

  3. I don’t like to use rankings, so on both latter counts I’ll say, yes, pretty up there; and on the first count, yes, you got something there.

  4. The WP artticle says the painting inspired another Tarkovsky movie, The Mirror (Зеркало), as well as Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron). (I don’t know anything about that last one. Probably lots of car chases.)

  5. That’s not another Tarkovsky movie, that’s the one I wrote about.

  6. Indeed. I meant Solaris.

  7. I do not know. I see this every day.

  8. John Cowan says

    Which is reflecting on existence, the pigeon or the branch? Is the original title any less ambiguous?

  9. @drasvi: nice one.
    @JC: If I’m guessing right, the original says “sat on a branch and considered”, so no ambiguity there.

  10. En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron

    Well, now I have to link to De Düva (winner of the Golden Escargot).

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