The Argonauts [Аргонавты] (1971)

This is the second in a series of five twenty-minute films based on Greek heroic mythology that were written by Aleksei Simukov and directed by Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya between 1969 and 1974, at the end of her long animation career in the former Soviet Union (see also “Return from Olympus,” “Labyrinth: The Deeds of Theseus,” “Perseus” and “Prometheus”). They were produced by Russian state animation studio Soyuzmultfilm on behalf of the Ministry of Education and are considered the most important movies about Greek myth ever made in the USSR.

Plot summary: Two young boys happen upon an old man and wrecked ship on the shore. They imagine themselves sailing off for an adventure, and the old man tells them that this was the Argo and that he is Jason. He then recounts his journey in flashback, recalling the heroes who accompanied him, their encounter with the Symplegades, the Sirens, and — somewhat oddly — the Stymphalian birds, before they reach the kingdom of Aeetes and his daughter Medea, who helps him retrieve the golden fleece.

 The romantic connection between Jason and Medea is present but minimized here — she is instead fulfilling a prophecy through her aid of the hero. She is also depicted as a strong protagonist with quite a bit of agency. This image accorded well with the ideals of Soviet feminist ideology, which expected women to dedicate themselves to the betterment of the state through (their often masculine-coded) work, while also serving as the heroines of the home, making sacrifices for their families and creating a home-life that would “increase productivity and improve quality of work.” While we don’t see Medea in the guise of mother in this film, at the end the aged Jason does allude vaguely to their fraught future together when he responds to the two boys (who recall his two sons with her) when they ask, “What happened next?” by saying, “For me, Jason, there was no more ‘then’.” He then falls through the hull of the ship and dies, but not before offering a prayer on behalf of the Argo and restoring its divine protection for another generation. This dramatic turn is an allusion to his ignominious end, as he was struck by a rotting chunk of wood that fell from the ship, just as Medea prophesied after killing their sons. 


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