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A Hen, Her Husband and Symbolic Animation

Late Soviet surreal animation on YouTube.

Created by the Pilot animation studio in 1989, “Hen, His Wife” is a bizarre tale of family life. Founded in 1988, Pilot became the first private animation studio in the Soviet Union and quickly gained favor as a producer of surreal symbolic films, both unexpected and somewhat appropriate for the time period. 

Igor Kovalyov, one of the studio’s founders, directed a tale so densely symbolic that it's tough to interpret. In terms of narrative, the film is about a family couple in which the husband, dressed in prison-like garments, ignores his dutiful wife – an anthropomorphic hen – until a stranger arrives and jolts them from their absurd coexistence. The plot itself, however, makes little sense without interpreting the abundant symbols of impotence, autoeroticism, and sexuality. Kovalyov’s wordless, surreal drama easily captures one’s attention, leaving a lingering unease in its wake, even without Freudian analysis.

The film was nominated for the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, and The International Animated Film Association included “Hen, His Wife” on their list of the 50 best short animated films created between 1960 and 2010.