Anca Damian: Crulic: The Path to Beyond (2011)–ND/NF

Publish Date: 08 Mar 2012
Author: Chris Knipp

A meaningless death, in animation

Claudio Crulic was a Romanian in his early thirties who was jailed twice in Poland for thefts he apparently did not commit, and the second time he went on a hunger strike that led to his death months later. Despite letters and appeals to the Romanian consul and government and repeated medical examinations, Crulic was ignored by everyone and allowed to deteriorate to a point of no return. It was a scandal that the authorities didn’t prevent him from dying in this way, and a minster resigned. The purpose of this 73-minute animated feature is to tell this strange, sad story. The hand-drawn look and the collaged photos plus voice-over first-person narration from beyond the grave by the actor Vlad Ivanov (of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Pollice, Adjective) contribute to a poetic, Kafkaesque quality. One is charmed (and horrified). and one can identify. A documentary would not have the same effect — you’d not get the dark humor.

As the voice tells Crulic’s tale he seems doomed. For example he says his whole life can be told in a hundred photos. We see the photos, from baby through adolescent raised by female relatives to young adult who quits school early to provide family support, ending with a couple of seaside shots in Italy with his sister. This viewpoint seems reductive. He lists, for example, all the objects that were with him when he died. Before that he lists the objects people bought from outside in Romania. He made a living by purchasing things in Poland and bringing them back to sell. This seems to have something to do with his being considered a thief. The materiality of the account underlines the Kafkaesque absurdity of the life.

After the handling of the body after death and the span of the life have been told, English narration by Jamie Sives, describes the effect of his fast, step by grim step, and the bureaucratic ignoring of his ordeal. The interjection of English as well as the heavy Scottish accent of Siven create a somewhat jarring effect. Animation shows Crulic’s last days and death. By the time doctors finally acknowledged the danger his body was in and sought permission to intervene it was too late. A needle punctured his lung, which was already damaged by pneumonia. A long sequence shows his shroud floating away, as if it were his soul. At the end there are some clips from TV about the story covered in the news, the scandal, and the resignation of the government minister.

One might contrast this with the more realistic and physically enacted story of a hunger strike to the death in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, in which Michael Fassbender plays the Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands. That was one nation repressing another’s independence struggle. This is merely bureaucracy crushing a low income foreign national protesting his false imprisonment. The tragedy of an ordinary man.

Damian deserves credit for treating her subject in a distinctive and artistic way. Hopefully this is a fairly unique incident, but the way a powerless man can be chewed up and spit out by the modern bureaucratic machine is hardly unusual.

Crulic: The Path to Beyond/Crulic – drumul spre dincolo debuted at Locarno and has shown at several other festivals. It was screened for the press for New Directors/New Films (MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, March 21-April 1, 2012) and is scheduled for public viewings:

Friday, March 23rd | 6:30 PM | MoMA
Saturday, March 24th | 2:00 PM | FSLC