Tragedy in animated form
by Stefan Dobroiu
18/11/2011 - Internationally released at the most recent Locarno film festival, Anca Damian's Crulic – The Path to Beyond [trailer, film focus] is the first animated feature in more than two decades. It is also a documentary which explores, in an intense but sincere way, a very sensitive case that caused a diplomatic scandal between Romania and Poland in 2008: wrongfully imprisoned in Poland, Romanian immigrant Claudiu Crulic starts a hunger strike that will lead to his death after months of starvation, completely ignored by both Romanian and Polish authorities. The events were followed by the honorary resignation of the Romanian foreign affairs minister, Adrian Cioroianu.
Crulic, as the film's title is usually shortened, is a worthy documentary, telling as it does the story of a human being who is completely defeated by an indifferent system. Using several animation techniques, Anca Damian and her team of animators take the audience into a singular destiny, making the documentary one of the most tragic features released in 2011. With the help of Vlad Ivanov's (Mr. Bebe in Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days) [trailer, film focus]) inspired voiceover, the audience meets Claudiu Crulic, a young man accused of having stolen a judge's wallet in Krakow. Immediately imprisoned by the Polish police, Crulic contacts the Romanian consul in Poland, but receives a disappointing answer: he is expected to have faith in the Polish justice and will be released if proved innocent.
Ivanov's narration transforms Crulic - The Path to Beyond into something more than a documentary, making its protagonist a fictional version of a real person, a decision that required a legal disclaimer at the end. Thoroughly documented, the film has obvious elements of fiction, but they have no connection with the bureaucratic and legal nightmare that ended with a 33-year-old man's death. Although it was soon proved that Claudiu Crulic was actually in Italy and not in Poland during the time of the theft, he was not released. The doctors made things worse by continuously stressing that the detainee was in good health and did not need force feeding. After months of starvation, Crulic weighted less than 110 pounds at the time of his death, 70 pounds lighter than during his last days of freedom.
The ironical and auto-ironical commentary is helped by some very inspired decisions in terms of animation. The team, lead by Dragos Stefan uses images of real objects, Crulic's pictures and realistic sketches of buildings, to re-create the man's life from his birth to his last day. Blending techniques from collage to water colour and animated photography, the €290,000 documentary starts with a light tone, which gradually becomes a hauntingly dry presentation (narrated by Jamie Sives) of the string of abuses and incompetence that would lead to Crulic's end. The audience's indignation aroused by such injustice is expected to be appeased by an especially beautiful final sequence: Claudiu Crulic's almost transparent shroud floats away, maybe suggesting that death has finally brought peace to an innocent man. The end credits, however, bring the audience back to reality, with footage from Romanian and Polish TV news about the case and the aftermath of Crulic's death.