Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass)

Priit Pärn (1987)

Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass), inspired by Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), is one of Priit Pärn’s most powerful films. It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. Pärn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing. Breakfast on the Grass won the Nika Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 1988.

Eine murul (Breakfast on the Grass) was made during a unique time in the 1980s when Soviet Bloc animation was enjoying both the new freedoms of Gorbachev’s regime while at the same time still receiving state funding, something that would soon largely disappear under the new capitalist-style free markets. As Estonian animation began to push its own identity and achieve recognition just before independence, Priit Pärn’s films attracted attention with their naïve drawing style and controversy for a perspective on life behind the ‘iron curtain’ that would have been considered dangerously subversive a decade previously. Pärn managed to sidestep both the Disney-style kiddie cuteness previously prescribed by the government controlled Soyuzmultfilm studio and the dull preaching of a lot of his contemporaries’ ‘serious’ political animation. Along with the gritty social commentary, his films are also characterised by bizarre, surreal and ironic humour.

“Pärn also managed to find a stylistic middle ground between traditional cartoon drawing and raw primitivism, his scratchy style of drawing was confident and original and managed to be both figurative enough to be easily readable while retaining a free, spontaneous nature (by its painstaking nature a quality hard to find in much animation). His complex films were not only a simple criticism against totalitarian communist societies but also seemed to question the flip-side of the coin, a free market extreme where naked competition and materialism can lead to alienation, exploitation and the coarsening of values.

“In Eine murul (Breakfast On The Grass), four overlapping stories show various citizens struggle not only against poverty, shortages and the limitations of life under communist rule but against their own inner demons. Uncontrolled desires for wealth, power and beauty lead to various forms of self-hate, greed and corruption, often expressed with surreal symbolism. The film ends in a dreamlike sequence in which the four main characters are admitted into a symbolic, private pleasure garden based on Èdouard Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), perhaps the culmination of all their dreams.

“Many Ukrainian animators were heavily influenced by Pärn’s style and, as travel limitations loosened for Soviet Bloc citizens, this influence spread around the world where its design can even be seen in mainstream examples such as the children’s TV series Rugrats.

-Stephen Cavalier

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