The Magic Mountain is the second film in a trilogy built around the concept of heroism by Romanian filmmaker Anca Damian. It follows the poignant previous work, Crulic: The Path to Beyond (2011) about a a Romanian citizen who died in a Polish prison while on a hunger strike. The Magic Mountain follows a rather different concept of idealistic heroism, in telling the story of Polish photographer and mountaineer Adam J. Winkler. Winkler, disenchanted with the decline of Anti-Bolshevism in his home country, decided to leave for France and subsequently fight against the soviets in the 80’s on the side of the mujahedin.
The adventurous nature of the storyline is at once frightening and comic. Damian’s film is defined by its artistry in animation, inspired by a mixture of elements, including Winkler’s own photographic work and naïve sketches, occasionally included in the film’s rich palette of visuals, animated or distorted in creative ways. Other techniques employed include Aquarel sketches, collages and much more. It is a rather disarmingly beautiful film. There is not a single frame within its entire duration that is not eye-catching and stunning. The problem with its style is that it is overwhelming and makes it difficult to engage with the storyline. Despite this, and a mostly too rapid-paced story, its observation on its character’s idealism, even by way of Winkler’s stubbornness and personal imperfections, is still clear.
The story of The Magic Mountain is told by means of imagining a conversation between Winkler, who died in 2002, with his daughter, Ania, both interpreted by voice actors (in the existing English version of the film, Winkler is voiced by Jean-Marc Barr.) What is charming about this, aside from the intimate feel of the narration that juxtaposes the adventurousness of the film without undermining its political and historical informative aspects, is that it explains the style as a reproduction of informed, fantasized imaginings. The tone, together with the animation of the film, also recalls a type of warm hearted storytelling. Indeed, Winkler often likens himself to Koziolek Matolek, a goat-like Polish children’s literature character. Re-occurring references to this character and other comic events illustrated, are rather charming and amusing, and give The Magic Mountain a fairytale like tone (something implied in the ‘magic’ part of the title.) Like the best of fairytales, however, at its core there is a legitimate message, a dark one on the human condition, even away from its political implications. And there is plenty of drama all throughout. A sense of timeless is also evident, despite constant references to historical events and geographical locations (the ‘mountain’ part of the title.)
Like in Crulic, The Magic Mountain‘s study on heroism is central, but the difference between the two films’ examinations and their respective leading figures is evident. Whereas Crulic was willing to let himself die in prison for the truth, he did not want to. Damian makes it clear that Winkler’s courage and passion for his ideals was shown by the fact that he was quite ready and willing to die for his cause each and every day in Afghanistan.