Reality Becomes Fiction with “Crulic: The Path to Beyond”

The film “Crulic: The Path to Beyond” is an animated documentary of a young man who died at the age of 33 from starvation in a Polish prison hospital because of a hunger-strike in opposition to his unfair treatment by the Polish and Romanian law system and his false conviction of theft. The film is beautifully animated on multiple platforms including paint, stop-motion, photography, and composited pieces of video and drawing. The sound design brings to life the character of Crulic and his family, and immerses us in the multiple worlds such as Romania, Italy, Poland, the Prison, and the Hospital.  It also brings to life Crulic’s hunger-induced hallucinations in combination with surrealist design in animation.

The film illuminates injustices in the prison and legal systems in Eastern Europe, and has been funded and supported by many national film commissions.

An interesting discussion followed the film as my fellow Connexions colleagues and I discussed how it can be classified as a documentary as supposed to a drama. One of the arguments brought up against it were the “dramatizations” of the story of Crulic. The film gave a disclaimer at the end stating that it had taken liberties in the creation of characters and dramatization of events in order to tell a more compelling story. However, I find that that dramatization of a story does not remove all documentary aspects or any of it’s credibility as a documentary. If one were to tell their life story, they would paint it in colors that would make it interesting for the listener. With that said, the fact that Crulic is deceased means that there is no verifying how “dramatic” the events leading up to his death were.

The other argument against Crulic being a documentary was that it had none of the tell-tale signifiers of a documentary film such as archival footage and interviews. Information about how the story was constructed is not explicitly given during the film. However, it is implied that much of the story was taken from Crulic’s writing from his imprisonment as well as interviews with his sister and mother. I think that taking a person’s diary and rewriting a story based with the inclusion of details gathered from interviews is just as valid as a personal interview. The animation and characterization of the animated people in the film is just as relevant to us as our own imagination would be if someone told us the story through a radio broadcast. Just because it looks like a cartoon, doesn’t mean it isn’t as real as our own memories. Since “Waltz with Bashir” is a documentary consisting of the animation of memories recorded in interviews; “Crulic: The Path to Beyond” is a documentary consisting of the animation of someone’s diary consisting of their memories. Perhaps it is even more accurate since the medium of a diary is much more personal, and one is less likely to censor and embellish their story if it is only being recorded for the sake of their own memory.

In the end, the consensus of the group was that there are no black and white lines defining a documentary as opposed to a drama or narrative film. In the end, we are all telling stories of life and the human condition whether it be how large corporations are inhibiting the rights of free speech of a Swedish filmmaker, or telling the life story of a man who died of self-induced starvation while fighting for his rights.

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