Below we are sharing reviews of the two animated films that will compete for the laurels of the international short film competition of the 54th Krakow Film Festival: “Fugue for Cello, Trumpet and Landscape” by Jerzy Kucia and “Hippos” by Piotr Dumała.

Lessons of nature with Piotr Dumała’s “Hippos” and Jerzy Kucia’s “Fugue for Cello, Trumpet and Landscape”

The long-awaited pictures of two giants of contemporary Polish animation turn into dialogue with each other in a surprising way: the brutality of Piotr Dumała’s images is completed with melancholic world created by Jerzy Kucia. Authorial distance present in “Hippos” can be seen in contrast to the impressionist vertigo of “Fugue for Cello, Trumpet and Landscape”. Obviously, both films were created separately, in different studios in Krakow and Warsaw. Their complementarity is a phenomenon, emerging from cinephiles’ dream of reading and understanding one film through the prism of the other. Fascinating similarities of topics that inspired the directors, reveal fundamental differences in their temperament and personal universes. Dumała and Kucia are interested in humankind faced with nature. They define nature as individual traits, instincts, and inborn characteristics of homo sapiens: abstract memorizing and remembering, thinking based on association chains; and, last but not least, as the immensity of nature humans are surrounded by, but do not entirely recognize it nor are able to tame it.

Lesson one: overview

Piotr Dumała’s universe is filled with darkness from which, one by one, autonomous shapes, figures and, finally, groups emerge. Action isolated from any known reality is growing along the horizon to the tact of Alexander Balansescau’s unsettling music. This cool, black and white world is densely populated with autonomous figures. Seven naked, young, buxom women bathe seven charming cherubs. Each woman is focused entirely on her own child as if this relationship exhausted the possibilities of interpersonal contact. This idyllic alienation is disturbed by a group of bold, skinny men, who are subject to the will of their penises, yet at the same time are paradoxically asexual. The contact between both groups becomes inevitable and is indicating conflict. The struggle for life and death begins, and will be overcome by the strongest and the smartest, regardless of gender or age. The primitive dance ritual  implies sexual readiness as well as celebration of victory. The dynamics of horizontal motion, sudden loops of images and repetitions of rapid sequences at some point make us question the initial idea of the story being about not groups, but individuals. Dumała sees human as a zoological specimen and highlights individual autonomy. Interpersonal relations aren’t based on rational, logical principles of harmony, but – as if in the world of eponymous hippos: mammals exceptional for their individuality and strength – remain determined by instincts to satisfy basic needs and desires.

Lesson two: observing through microscope

Jerzy Kucia’s universe emerges from whiteness. It’s a microcosm of personal memories, objects and associations. Afterimages of reality seen through dripping rain glass or reflections in water mirror.  Film frame turns into paper sketched with rain that becomes overfloating with water and turns into a forest landscape that pictures field transforming before our eyes into water… The rhythm of repetitions, loops and changes is outlined by melancholic melody of cello and trumpet.  Just like in Piotr Dumała’s film, the story here follows the horizon line, but despite expectations of the viewer -accustomed to the Western linear movement - here it runs from the right to the left side of the screen, implicating the process of backtracking, reaching inwards. Perhaps Jerzy Kucia attempts to break out from the domination of the Western logic and rationality imposing its rules on animation, the art of visual metaphor and illusion of movement. Maybe only on the outside is the Fugue…  an ‘escape backwards’ and essentially is a story of inevitable progress. While remaining true to his recognizable authorial strategy, Kucia introduces variants of stories and emblems already used in his earlier works. When the monochrome image of endless field is replaced with vibrant greenness of apples, viewer’s memories of scenes from such movies as Przez pole or Spring are coming back. In an interview the director said: ‘Sometimes I hear opinions that I constantly make one film. In a way this is true, although my subsequent films were a new element to this constant.’ The artist, after fourteen silent years, presented the new element: the work, which, like the mythical Ouroboros comprises the eternal ambivalence of recurrence and passing.

Olga Bobrowska; translated by Dominika Sudnik