VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the February 28, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Based on the 1928 novel by Alexander Beliaev, Amphibian Man seems timeless even as its tech seems ancient. It feels like it comes from no set point of origin, as if it could be made today or fifty years ago.
At a seaside port in Argentina, the pearl fishermen all have told the story of an amphibian man who can live in the water. Ichthyander (Vladimir Korenev, voiced by Yuri Rodionov) was adopted by Professor Salvator (Nikolay Simonov), who had to save his life by replacing his lungs with the gills of a shark.
The dramatic thrust of this story occurs when Ichthyander falls in love with Guttiere (Anastasiya Vertinskaya, voiced by Nina Gulyaeva), the daughter of a fisherman and the wife of Pedro (Mikhail Kozakov), who uses the love between his wife and the undersea human to exploit him into getting him more pearls.
As a child, I was always told that Russia was a sad, cold place that had no access to art. How did this beautiful movie come to be? Had I been lied to? Perhaps.
In the January 2018 issue of Indie Cinema, the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water is taken to task, not just for allegedly taking its plot and visuals from the Dutch student film The Space Between Us, but for how close Guillermo del Toro’s film is to Amphibian Man. It’s set in the same year that the Russian film was made and, yes, much of the movie concerns the Russian element in America.
Directed by Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadiy Kazanskiy and written by Akiba Golburt, Aleksei Kapler and Aleksandr Ksenofontov, this is at once a retro future movie — whooshing doors are everywhere and the costume that Ichthyander looks like Alex Raymond or Rick Yager drew it — while it also has musical numbers, which makes it so charming that it nearly breaks my heart.
I mean, read this dialogue:
Gutiere: This must be love at first sight!
Ichtyandr: Is there any other kind of love?
Of course it has to end with its lovers separated by the waves and unrequited love.
Is there any other kind of love?
You can watch this on Tubi.