Focus on Crulic – drumul spre dincolo (Crulic - The Path to Beyond)
Crulic – drumul spre dincolo (Crulic - The Path to Beyond) is, among nine other european films, selected for the Official Selection of the LUX Prize 2012. Anca Damian's Crulic – drumul spre dincolo is an animated feature-length 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) 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 – drumul spre dincolo 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.
Produced by Aparte Film Film and Fundacja Im. Ferdynanda Magellan Crulic – drumul spre dincolo is internationally handled by France's Wide Management.
Interview with Romanian film director Anca Damian:
What attracted you to make this project?
First of all, the way Claudiu (Crulic, Ed.) died. When you decide to begin a hunger strike, the body fades away slowly, so slowly that death needs weeks to arrive. It's a contemplation of death. What I felt was the absolute solitude of this man, abandoned by everyone around him. This is how I started the project. The film's idea came from the emotion I felt imagining Claudiu Crulic's death.
Why did you choose to make an animated documentary?
There is a space that you could not cover with any kind of material. Crulic's story existed only in what others said about him, in the little pieces of information they gave away, which sometimes did not fit in with the others, but when put together helped me to intuitively weave this cloth to cover the void, using animation. But animation was only a binding matter; we always used real objects, from Crulic's pictures to thousands of pictures taken by myself and my student Ilija Zogovski during the investigation of the real spaces of the story. And then, when the victim tells his own story from the after-world, nothing could be more convincing and credible than animation.
The documentary needed a thorough investigation before production – were the Polish authorities open to giving you details about the case?
My discussions with the representatives of the Polish institutions were like trying to talk with a deaf person. My position was actually of a journalist-artist, to say so. I had many difficult moments, many obstacles. As a Romanian director and producer I wasn't able to check the legal details of the case. I received Crulic's file only with the help of the Polish co-producer (Arkadiusz Wojnarowski, Ed.).
What was the biggest challenge Crulic raised during production?
The biggest challenge was the uniqueness of this film. I forced the limits of the cinematic language beyond the borders with several visual arts and music. The language inventions are perfectly integrated into the story, which is powerful by itself - after all we are talking about death, aren't we?
The documentary uses several animation techniques, how were they chosen?
Since the very beginning we decided to use the collage and animated photography, our intention was initially to create some sort of video art. Animators took very creative steps further away and all became a new experience for us. The animation team was formed especially for this film. In terms of approach, we used the concept of contour dematerialization: as Crulic's end comes nearer and nearer, the outlines are less and less obvious. The animators used this guideline during the production.
At the end you use inserts from mass media, why did you prefer real footage instead of animation?
It is the epilogue: we come back to reality. The film ends with the inserts and the legal disclaimer. We come back to the reality of the news footage, which is supposed to wake the audience up, to force them to see the world as it really is.