During my stay in The Hague I turned 31. Strangely, my 31st birthday feels much more significant than my 30th. To mark my growing older, I recreated one of my most formative childhood memories with my daughter. We watched an animated film together. The Soviet cartoon Chipollino was created in 1961, based on the children’s book by Gianni Rodari (Le avventure di Cipollino) and directed by Boris Dezkin. Chipollino (from the Italian word ‘cipolla’, meaning ‘onion’) is a dialectical analysis of societal relationships, embodied by fruit and vegetables.
In a faraway kingdom, a class struggle is raging between the fruit and the vegetables. Chipollino, the cheerful working-class onion, accidentally steps on Prince Lemon’s foot during a military parade. Chipollino’s elderly, frail father takes the blame and is immediately thrown into prison. Rumours escalate and spread around the kingdom; the ‘old’ onion was planning an assassination, he’s a dangerous terrorist who deserves to be locked up for the rest of his days. Meanwhile, Chipollino’s biggest concern is that his father is surrounded by criminals, but his father allays his fears calmly during a prison visit: ‘Nonsense! We’re all honest people here.’
Other injustices follow: the hut in which the pumpkin lives is confiscated on the grounds that it was built illegally. A guard dog is placed in the hut and tasked with reporting anyone who seems suspicious. The vegetables become radicalised, and Pumpkin and Chipollino’s other friends go underground. Using trickery they manage to take back Pumpkin’s hut and hide it in the forest, and Chipollino’s father is rescued from prison too. Prince Lemon and his henchman Tomato tighten their control and start a manhunt that bears many similarities to today’s dragnet techniques. A renowned investigator is brought in from abroad and the aristocracy (the cherries) flee the kingdom as a precaution. Chipollino and his helpers are captured along with numerous other innocent citizens. Sheet music is confiscated on the pretext that it is a coded message and Pumpkin’s hut is discovered in the forest. Incidentally, the brilliant film score was composed by Karen Surenovich Khachaturian, a student of Shostakovich.
The aristocratic cherries are two old maids who are Siamese twins, or cherries joined at the head. Their nephew the young cherry is a sensitive, thin, trusting boy who wears shorts. Needless to say, he betrays his aunts and joins those fighting for the revolution. In a Greek tragedy he would have paid dearly for this betrayal and Freud would have taken a greater interest in his aunts, but communism only rewards him.
Everything works out well in the end, of course, which in this case means world revolution and the building of a new and fairer society. The tomato bursts, the cherries remain abroad and everyone sets to work. I have always had something against the little onion and I’ve spent the last few years wondering what it could be. On the other hand, I have a lot of sympathy for the little cherry, maybe because he looks so fragile and intellectual, whereas the hero’s appearance is somewhat rougher. Perhaps he simply seems less threatening. I watched the film for the fortieth time anyway and, just before the happy ending, my daughter fell asleep.