Beautiful artwork and a powerful story are the key elements of animated docu “Crulic — The Path to Beyond,” recounting the Kafkaesque history of a Romanian man arrested in Poland and abandoned by everyone until his death following a hunger strike in 2008. Sophomore helmer Anca Damian doesn’t prettify the subject, but rather uses the animation as an illustration of miscarried justice, told with a certain detached irony until the live action news reportage at the closing credits. The rising popularity of socially conscious animated pics could help “Crulic” move from fest screens to a small arthouse release.
Thesp Vlad Ivanov voices the first-person narration from the grave, recounting Claudiu Crulic’s life in detail and providing a psychological profile that probably offers greater glimpses into character than a traditional docu format could. Pic opens with Crulic talking about his postmortem repatriation, and how his mother and half-sister couldn’t recognize his body, 66 pounds lighter than when they last saw him, and looking closer to 70 than his actual age of 33.
By early adulthood, Crulic was making frequent trips to Poland, where he’d buy low-cost goods and sell them back home in northern Romania. Then in 2007, he was arrested for stealing a judge’s wallet; although it was later proven he was in Italy at the time of the theft, authorities dismissed his protestations of innocence, believing previous arrests for theft established his present guilt. Letters to the Romanian consul in Poland were either ignored or replied to in a condescending manner, and even a note to his half-sister asking for help was dismissed.
Crulic went on a hunger strike, yet authorities disregarded his actions, with prison doctors claiming he was in good health despite his gradual deterioration. Only when nearing total biological system failure did doctors apply for a permit to force feed him, but the needle perforated his lung, leading to further meltdown. After Crulic’s death, authorities tried to wash their hands of responsibility, though eventually a few heads rolled.
Damian (“Crossing Dates”) tells the story in a relatively straightforward manner, letting the information sink in rather than trying to manipulate sentiment toward righteous indignation. For the most part the idea works, though she has the animators illustrate every line, and the pileup (for example, a list of things in the prison facility) doesn’t allow time to process it all. A beautifully drawn sequence at the end, of Crulic’s shroud floating away, works against the buildup of outrage and stymies a sense of catharsis until the credits sequence and the insertion of real news reports, which bring home the shockingly cold-blooded nature of the responsible parties.
Animation is especially appealing, featuring attractive watercolors and lovely washes forming the background to an imaginative use of drawings, cutouts and photos. Even if overloaded at times, the individual frames are beautifully rendered and clear, accompanied by Piotr Dziubek’s seamless and understated compositions.
Ivanov’s voice maintains a level of sympathetic detachment not without its share of ironic humor, offering exactly the right amount of personality without playing anything up. English narration by Jamie Sives details Crulic’s medical breakdown as well as the chilling bureaucratic nightmare responsible for his death. A credit at the end explains that certain details have been adapted or invented, a statement that needs clarification, at least in the press book.