The second of Romanian director Anca Damian’s trilogy devoted to heroism, which began with Crulic: The Path to Beyond, investigates the amazing life story of Adam Jacek Winkler, a Polish refugee and adventurer who went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets alongside Commander Massoud, known as the “Lion of Panjshir”. Her mix of animation, collage, and actual footage from the various periods covered suits her subject to perfection – highlighting his courage, idealism, moral values as well has absurdity. It plays out as a dialogue between Winkler and his daughter Anna, who co-wrote the script.
The background is fascinatingly evoked in broad brush strokes. When he was a child, Winkler’s cousin and uncle were killed along with 22,000 other Poles in the Katyn forest massacre in 1940 which had Stalin’s blessing. Winkler imagined himself fighting the Bolsheviks and liberating his homeland, thoughts fuelled by stories about the exploits of the Polish Resistance. He left Poland in 1965 to live in Paris, where he worked as a decorator and painter while co-operating with groups of anti-Communist agitators.
He continued to harbour guilt feelings for having left his homeland was always on the look-out for ways to fight the Russians. In the film he says: “In 1979 I would be born a second time. The Russians invaded Afghanistan. From then on my eyes were fixed on that part of the world.” He describes fighting alongside the Afghans as finally finding “his own kind”.
Damian who won the best film prize at Annecy in 2012 for Crulic: The Path to Beyond, uses as sources his letters, a war journal and a narrative that he recorded at the time. Her techniques lend a dream-like quality to his picaresque adventures, which nevertheless are rooted in reality.