50th Karlovy Vary: A quick chat with Anca Damian, director of ‘The Magic Mountain’


Four years ago, in 2011, the Romanian director Anca Damian first made herself widely known to the international film community by presenting her animated feature Crulic at the Locarno film festival. Based on a true story of Claudiu Crulic that has gained a lot of publicity in 2008, the film consists of a mix of techniques including hand-drawn animation and animated photographs. They are of Crulic’s personal possessions – that he kept while imprisoned in a Polish prison after being arrested for theft, although he had supposedly been in Italy at the time. A Romanian citizen, Crulic sought help from the Romanian consul and went on a hunger strike after his requests were dismissed. The signs of his deteriorating health have been dismissed and he finally died from starvation four months later.

Reality keeps intruding into Damian’s animations – and while in Crulic, it was the things the real, historic Claudiu Crulic kept, in the director’s this year’s The Magic Mountain, presented in the 50th Karlovy Vary competition, it is the drawings and own photographs of Adam Jacek Winkler, a Polish mountain climber, photographer and fervent anti-Communist, who fought alongside the Afghan Commander Massoud against the Soviet Red Army invading the country. A kind of a Polish Lawrence of Arabia, Winkler is guided by a fervent romanticism and sometimes delusional ideological conviction that runs contrary to the crisis-stricken perceptions of communist/socialist ideals of the (European) liberal West. Winning the special mention at the festival, The Magic Mountain is an abundant mixture of different styles and techniques, from the extravagantly formalist to blatantly documentary. For Sound on Sight, I’ve briefly spoken with the director at the 50th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

How does The Magic Mountain relate to the story of Crulic?

I wanted to do a trilogy on heroism. In the first part, with Crulic, the heroism is not really conscious or even voluntary. Crulic is a more emotional character – he doesn’t have big plans to change the world, he just has his truth and this kind of fragility of a simple man, who is neither good nor bad, but has a big heart. It was a touching story. This time, someone is consciously wanting to change the world alone, like a fool, like a Don Quixote. I wanted a story like that after Crulic, and then I met Bénédicte Thomas of Arizona Productions. She knew his story and was friends with his daughter. That made it easier for me to approach the story, which fitted perfectly to what I wanted to do. The register was different, a bit cynical, but also poetical, because this is a big adventure. It is a mix of elements and that is why there is a mixture of techniques also, following the story, using the technique that fits to that moment. There will be a third part, with a female character this time. There is a connection between the three of them: an exploration of how we face death. What are the things we would die for? Crulic dies for his truth, Adam Jacek Winkler wants to die to change the world. In the third part, death will be a sacrifice for something the character believes in.

There is a line in the film – “The French just don’t understand.” The view of Communism is spectacularly different from the one in the West. Do you think your film would be very different in that sense if made by a French instead of a Romanian director?

Definitely. Contrary to the French people, when you say “Communist”, for us, Romanians, the meaning of the word is clear – it’s Bolshevism, it’s not good. Calling someone in Romania a communist is an insult. It simply cannot mean anything good. But in France, of course, it’s different. Because they never had real communism. (Laughs) Also, since Adam is a romantic by nature, he wants to see things as black and white: the black is the Bolshevism and the white is fighting the Bolsheviks. No grey in between.

What kind of a relationship did the historical Adam Jacek Winkler have with the Afghan political and military leader Commander Massoud?

He was introduced to him shortly after entering Afghanistan. Massoud saw and presented him as someone who would aid and protect his plans, not obstruct them. Winkler was a foreigner and the Afghans admired him a lot. They were mostly young, twenty-something fighters, and he was fourty years old. He left his comfortable life in the West and came to lead a wild, dangerous life just because of what he believed in. When I met with people in Afganistan who met the historical Adam Jacek Winkler though, I realised that many of them didn’t really get why he was there, that he was fighting Bolsheviks, following his beliefs. They thought that mostly, he was a photographer. But they admired him a lot.

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