The Magic Mountain – Anca Damian

Publish Date: December 2015
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn | Translated by: N. Mętrak-Ruda

In this story about Jacek Winkler, Anca Damian combines a biographical documentary with fairy tale, adventure and animation. The Magic Mountain impresses with its strong narrative and pictorial richness.

The character of Jacek Winkler, a Polish oppositionist, who joined Afghan mujahideens to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, is in Anca Damian’s film a mix of Don Quixote and Koziołek Matołek. An artist, a dreamer, traveller, anarchist and romantic – that’s who we meet in The Magic Mountain.

The Magic Mountain

There is no exaggeration in this view – Winkler was such an extraordinary man that it’s hard to believe it’s his first film portrait.

During World War II, a large part of his family died. When he looked at dead bodies on the streets of Warsaw as a child, he dreamed of becoming a knight and fighting all of the evil in the world. He never resigned from this dream.

During the communism period he was an active member of the opposition, later he went to Paris and from there coordinated actions against the Soviet Union. He was a painter – he organised happenings and marches in collaboration with French homosexuals, and he smuggled underground leaflets. When the USSR attacked Afghanistan in 1979, he decided to go to Kabul and fight the invader with its inhabitants. ‘That’s what I dreamed of my whole life – to meet people not afraid of the Red Army’ – he says in Anca Damian’s movie. That is how Jacek Winkler started to fight for Afghanistan and lived as a partisan in the Hindu Kush mountains.

In The Magic Mountain, his story is told as a documentary fairy tale, based around a father’s conversation with his daughter. Winkler (who speaks with Jerzy Radziwiłowicz’s voice), gives his daughter (Julia Kijowska) a survival lesson. ‘Remember the first rule of survival: if you can, don’t die’. His advice serves as illustrations for pieces of the story. These are not simple, didactic talks, but subversive stories about life, dreams, following one’s inner voice.

Damian’s protagonists follow it every time. Even when they have to pay the highest price for their ideals. As the protagonist of The Path to Beyond – the Romanian artist’s first Polish film. Then she told the story of Claudio Crulic, a Romanian arrested by Polish police in 2007 and accused of theft. In a jail in Kraków he started a hunger strike and died four months later. In The Magic Mountain Damian also tells the story of a non-obvious moral victory and a man who sacrifices a lot to remain true to himself.

Her film got a special mention from the jury at the 50th Karlove Vary Festival and also an award at the International Animation Festival in Ottawa. Prizes for The Magic Mountain are not surprising – the film impresses with it’s amazing, pictorial form and the creators’ versatility. Damian, who used simple animation in The Path to Beyond, this time uses diverse means – watercolours and pastels, cut-outs, animated pictures and plasticine, and these diversity gives and epic quality to the film.

The Magic Mountain belongs to the genre of more and more popular documentary animation, which gained recognition especially after Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. Damian understands this form very well – she knows how to tell a story, how to apply right means to get as much as she can from a story. The Magic Mountain, another animated documentary of the Romanian artist, is a display of impressive artistic versatility. Not only form is important, but also the fascinating story of a man who fights for freedom: his own, and of others.

The Magic Mountain, directed by Anca Damian, written by Anca Damian, Anna Winkler, animation: Thodore Ushev, Sergiu Negulici, Dan Panaitescu, Tomasz Ducki, Raluca Popa, score: Alexander Balanescu. Starring: Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Julia Kijowska (voice). Premiere: 11.12.2015.