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Croatian film


A Film with a Secret

The attempt of reading and understanding the animated film Don Quixote by Vladimir Kristl

If it was possible to create an objective history of ’the century of film’, a book that would incorporate the most valuable that the art of (celluloid) film has given, and at the same time avoid American centrism, as a kind of ’genre racism’ in favor of feature and documentary film, than it is quite certain that there would be a place for a few animated films form Zagreb in the pantheon of cinematographic works of art. Here I refer to films such as Surogat (Surrogate) (1961) by Dušan Vukotić, Idu dani (The Days Go By) (1969) by Nedeljko Dragić, Satiemania (1978) by Zdenko Gašparović, but before all others, Don Quixote (1961) by Vladimir Kristl. Vladimir Kristl, born in Zagreb in 1923, before and concurrently with animation, was successfully active in several artistic fields. He was a director, an animator, an actor, a production designer, a caricaturist and a prominent painter, one of the founders of group Exat 51, that brought together representatives of geometric abstraction, whose uderstanding of art which was completely opprobrious at the time. At the beginning of the sixties he leaves for Germany, where he died in 2004. Kristl’s first contact with a animation was in 1952, when he was involved in an unrealized project of Duga film Čarobni zvuci (Magical Sounds) for which he drew a detailed continuity and about two thousand drawings. He spent some time in Argentina, but in 1959, after the invitation from Animated Film Studio of Zagreb Film, he returned to Zagreb. He was first the main animator in the film Krađa dragulja (Jewelry Theft) directed by Mladen Feman, and in 1960 he was allowed to realize Šagrenska koža as a co-director with Ivo Vrbanić, in which he will use some of the material made for Magical Sounds. This first film already confirmed that Kristl is an author who had not only fascinatingly fast conquered the technology of animated film, but who also understands the media in all its aspects, and immediately imposed himself as the artist with a personal perception of animation. Kristl wanted to innovate and individualize every detail in the process of making an animated film, to coordinate and adjust it to his own perception of the media, not taking into account the rules of the trade. Reading the script for Don Quixote confirms that even this, for some the basic segment of film production, was considered to be completely superfluous by Kristl. In the nonchalantly written 32 lines he, for example, says that ’a gag with water and horse’ will happen to Don Quixote, but without finding it necessary to explain the content of the gag. Kristl found the animation performance to be the most important thing. By incorporating a narrative line into the space of geometrically stylized visualization, Kristl integrates both dominant (European and American) animation traditions that preceded his work. If we stop any picture of Don Quixote, we will get an abstract picture, but it is not an abstract film, but a work of narration. The grammar of the film is based on the logic of geometry and history of two-dimensional presentation of space, but its narrative structure is constructed according to the conventions of a traditional American animated film, above all chase cartoons. Kristl anthropomorphizes the simplest geometrical signs, those that are at the lower limit of graphical simplification in which we can still recognize a certain sense — squares, rhomboids, rectangles. But Kristl is also interested in making these ’signs’ rhythmical: Kristl’s personified squares swarm and regroup, slide and hop, vibrate and pulsate in intermitting intervals of implosion and explosion. Kristl’s characters do not have even an indication of human anatomical characteristics, but are shown in the form of geometrical sketches of things. Precise arrangement and organization of movement suggests existence of a scheme in accordance with which the figures move, a decoupage situated ’under’ the visible layer of screen. These characteristics are obvious in the characters: Don Quixote is shown as a water-pipe with a beard and a hat, his companion Sancho Panza is usually an egg, the top of which is hairy and has a hat. Both characters fit into general mechanization and geometrization of the world of film. All the developments in Don Quixote are situates on two stages, a city and something that we can assume is nature, because it is characterized by the complete lack of urban indicators. The first set is filled with cars, road signs, whistles, firemen, canons, airplanes, while the other is virtually empty. Kristl relativizes space all the time, he creates the feeling of constant instability by turning the whole scene ’upside-down’, the top line of the screen suddenly becomes a standing line that characters walk on, by simply rotating the whole picture or displaying the horizon as a vertical line in the middle of the screen. Set design is an important element in perceiving this film. Sound background in Don Quixote is a collage mechanized sounds, most often congruent, while they illustrate swarms of personified geometrical signs, that swarm around the ’city’ where the paranoia, constant state of war, chaos and general distress rules, the fact that is emphasized by background sounds of constant explosions, whistling, screeching of cars and a kind of military march, which is the only musical motive in the film. On the other hand, Don Quixote is ’sounded’ with mostly incongruent sounds. Editorially speaking, the film is a mosaic, a collage, in the continuous process of transformation, putting together pieces of time, rhythmical movements and geometrical pictures. Don Quixote is a work that paints a mechanized and dehumanized world characterized by loss of subjectivity, violent erasing of cultural differences between people, it is, we could almost say, a picture of modern globalization. Kristl announced a self-centered, cynical world in which individualism and humanism will worth as much as the discarded, rotten water-pipe.
ANALYTICAL CONTENTS: 1. In the pantheon of cinematographic works of art; 2. The offended eccentric; 3. Historical context; 4. Drawing, movement, space; 5. Perception; 6. An interpretation; Notes; Bibliography

Midhat Ajanović

Alexandre Alexéieff

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