KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — Anca Damian’s “Magic Mountain,” a riot of interwoven animation, archival images, handmade art and prickly politics, is likely the only Karlovy Vary Film Festival competition contender that required three studios to complete.
“This is what is extraordinary in animation,” says the writer/helmer/producer. “You can have a kind of surreality using real elements, mixing them with drawings, and create a world.”
Damian’s past animated work in 2011’s investigative account “Crulic – The Path to Beyond” made the rounds of some 150 fests, portraying the Kafkaesque fate of a Romanian man caught in immigration limbo abroad with raw, naive-style images and ironic narration.
This time around, the Romanian/French/Polish co-production employs French thesps contributing voice-over talents to a more varied, richer mix of media, styles and effects, created with the help of Theodore Ushev and Tomek Ducki, many of which evolved along the way during shooting, Damian says.
“I’m digging and experimenting at every stage,” the filmmaker says. “One of my targets is not to repeat things, to try to be fresh.”
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Pic’s portrayal of Polish anti-communist dissident and mountain climber Adam Jacek Winkler is based on his battles with both party officials and later with the Red Army as he fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan. But, Damian, cautions, her vision of her hero’s causes and quest to find noble battles are often her own.
“He wanted to be a kind of knight who was fighting with the dragon,” the Romanian helmer says of her subject.
Winkler’s own drawings and photographs come to life throughout the film, which often incorporates absurdist humor into the handling of grim events. The protagonist’s escape from Poland to Paris, the family he lost during WWII and even death on his extreme mountain climbs take on a fairytale quality as Damian weaves together the divergent threads of Winkler’s life and writings.
With some distributors who find it easier to market films that more clearly occupy a known genre, Damian finds herself having to defend her multi-faceted approach, she admits. But she’s not too troubled by calls for a more conventional approach.
“Life is a mix,” she says. “Life is dark with light, tears with laughing — if life is complex why shouldn’t my film be?”
But Damian is also a stickler for detail and insisted on visiting remote regions of Afghanistan to get the images of Winkler’s adventures there right, she says.
“If I wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have made the movie. I changed the way it looked after that.”
As for Winkler’s quest for a just war, Damian says, it proved just as elusive as an artist’s search for truth: “Ordinary people say he was a crazy guy, a fool. Someone who takes risks, all the time haunted by the idea that he must do something — even if in the end all this war was a disappointment for him as any war is a disappointment.”