Blesok no. 90, May-June, 2013
A Round Trip: From Literature to Animated Film and Back
How should one begin to analyse three ingenious pieces, three exceptional products of contemporary culture, all equally complex, each in its own domain, and each of them with its own specific features, details and attributes which are not shared by the others? Should the discussion follow the analytical or synthetic principle, reviewing the individual symbols or each of the works, or, contrary to this, look at their unity as an achievement of the complex artistic-comprehensive experience? Since one does not deal with philosophical categories here, but rather with strictly artistic ones, the comparative method should be followed as the only justified one when it comes to works that are at the same time so similar, close in their artistic and educational function, but at the same time so different due to the nature of the space in which they are expressed.
This is about Dimitar Solev’s masterly written short story The Round Trip of a Shadow, reshaped into an artistic fairy tale “taken from the left pocket” of Aleksandar Prokopiev, both recreated and reshaped in a single ingenious film product, made by Žarko Ivanov and the artist Aleksandar Zafirovski, i.e. FlipBook Production.
Here I listed three creative experiences transferred by different media and techniques of expression. Each one of them is, doubtlessly, worthy of a thorough analyses in itself, but also in an unavoidable interference relation to each other as they capture the researching curiously of everybody taking the task of interpreting them. The emerging fear is, however, whether the interpreting analysis of the one who has undertaken that task would be worthy of the works? Will he not leave out something from their comprehensiveness, i.e. will the comparative study itself be as comprehensive as the works are? There is but one way to find it, and it is to try it! Here I do not imply trying as a practice, but as something that should be done with great courage. So let us start the search, from the work that actually started the whole round trip – Dimitar Solev’s short story.
To our great fortune, Solev’s clear and precise narrative expression helps us follow the text skilfully and prevents us from deviating from the flow of meaning at any time. The main archetypal image in the story The Round Trip of a Shadow is the juxtaposition of the city and the cemetery. Here, I mean the contrast that is created when the image of the city as created to be the home for the living, and on the other hand, the image of the cemetery as the home of the dead. It is not by accident that Solev placed them on such opposite sides, as he himself says: “As the city expanded, the cemetery was further and further – the living would not mix with the dead…” Or: “The city expanded as a drop of ink on waxed paper and the cemetery was further and further”
The main action that connects the city and the cemetery is the great wish of the character Krume to always replant a sapling by the grave of his firstborn son, Mitruš, who was killed during the war. The story builds on its meaning along the trail from the city to the cemetery, wherever the latter has been moved, as Solev says: “after the war ended, the cemetery was transferred to the eastern part of the city, to Usje… finally the cemetery was transferred to the northern part of the city, to Butel.” The axis of the story is the transfer of Mitruš’s bones from one grave to another, from one eternal home to another. However, the landscape element of this morbid story is that the old railway worker Krume plants a new sapling again and again, at each new grave of his Mitruš, to keep a shadow above his head. This repetitiveness which is typical of Krume’s life, how to find the essence of his existence in this undertaking, the communication with his dead son Mitruš, is also the light motif of Prokopiev’s existential fairy tale of his Čovečulec (Little Man). The railway worker Krume is an embodiment of such as “čovečulec” – a marginal person, defeated in his battle with life, and th only justification for his own existence is the communication with his dead son, because the other three living sons have long left abroad and deserted him: “Did you visit Mitruš, asked his wife when the railway worker returned from the city. I did, responded Krume as if he had visited somebody with whom he just parted. How is he, asked his wife, and hope that he would not be worse than yesterday lingered in her voice. Well, responded the old man, hopefully he would be better in the new cemetery… Used to work for the others all of their lives, they felt as if there was nothing to work for themselves.” Solev has cemented Krume’s fate, and he defaced his wife to the extent that he never gave her a personal name, calling her the old woman in the story. The only ideas planted in their heads are those of dying, because life had not left them many things to rejoice. “Before, she would keep her work present for this one -- the care for the living children would not leave her the time to think about the deceased. But as the children, one after another, as a loss after a loss, emptied the house, the old woman remained more and more empty handed, without any worries and without any work. If I could only keep one, she thought not knowing what to do with her hands, if I could only keep one, if I would only have a single grandchild here.” Here, Dimitar Solev does not aspire that his narrative is transformed into a visual work, but it is so clear and picturesque in itself, as if the action takes place in front of the reader’s eyes.
Although Prokopiev consistently follows the scenes of Solev’s story in his fairy tale written according to The Round Trip of a Shadow, in his version he makes a concise animated film script. In the beginning, even before the title, he states: “This fairy tale is told to an animated film fan”, as if he had known before that his undertaking would be complete, i.e. it would result in a creation of an animated film. The animated film, on the other hand, as a visual medium, even more skilfully draws all the contours of Solev’s story and Prokopiev’s depiction. The master artist Aleksandar Zafirovski has fantastically portrayed the thin, wasted and hunchbacked Krume, dressed in an old, shabby coat, wondering around the deserted dusty streets of the city. From the beginning to the end of the 7.32 minute long animated film, a shadow of a small child runs next to the old Krume, an embodiment of the deceased Mitruš whose death was located by Prokopiev at the time he was only 9, as his re-told fairy tale says: “The cross on the tomb states – Mitruš, and the years 1951-1960.” In this depiction, Prokopiev’s image differs from Solev’s when it comes to the character of Mitruš, as the latter had put him into an advanced age, saying: “Never before has the railway worker Krume felt guilty before his first son – not even when he had been seeing him off to a foreign army, with his hair cut short, to ease the burden in his house for one mouth.” Of course, the reader’s freedom in unquestionable, as the author’s one, and every reader can imagine Mitruš at any age he wants. In Prokopiev’s depiction, as in the animated film, which very closely follows the author’s text, Mitruš, shown as the shadow of a young boy, constantly runs around his father Krume and follows him in his daily odyssey to the cemetery, which is always far from the city. The transformation power of the city, its growth and modernisation, the trail that Krume follows, which shows the change of seasons, but also the physical transformation of Krume (who is older, more wrinkled and more exhausted in every new scene) are skilfully shown in the graphic of Aleksandar Zafirovski. The action in the film follows a subtle sad music, very appropriate to the ambience, whose composer and performer is the exceptional bass player Oliver Josifovski. The music background gives soul to the drawing, it brings it to life in all of its originality. The director Žarko Ivanov precisely follows Prokopiev’s fabric and entangles it stitch by stitch. In the first scene, as noted with the author as well, the film shows us Krume, an old, stooping man, in a coat of a retired railway worker, carrying a small sapling in his hand, with several leaves and with a heavy and slow walk going to the cemetery along the dusty trail, with the shadow of the young Mitruš running around him. Krume reaches the cemetery and plants the tree by Mitruš’s grave. The shadow of the young boy is always next to him, helping him with the planting and watering of the tree, although Krume is not conscious of its existence. In the meantime, cries of an old woman dressed in black are heard from one of the neighbouring graves, performed by the excellent voice of Verče Miševska. In the second scene, the image of Krume and the one of the city change. As the city becomes newer and younger in its buildings, Krume becomes older, more exhausted, slower and heavy-footed, more stooping. This opposition, on one hand everything that surrounds Krume getting younger, and on the other, his personal fall, stresses the presence of time and the time differences, underlining the chronology of this short story. During these time leaps which are very hard to show in a seven and a half minute film, the third scene is especially vivid, where the city has grown and changed, as well as the cemetery – unlike the dusty trail leading to them, now there is a new, an asphalt one. The tragic tone of the story is created from endlessly repetitive actions of Krume who changes only in his body, being more wrinkled in his face, hunch-backed, walking slowly and heavy-footed, and his body starting to turn into a tree crown and rooting. Each of his movements becomes more difficult than the previous, because his wasted body slowly turns into the tree that he obsessively plants again and again. In the end, in the last scene of the film, Krume is completely turned into a tree above his son’s grave, thus remaining with him forever.
This fantastic image of the metamorphosis of the man whose only essence of existence is planting a tree above his son’s grave, turning into a tree himself, forever remaining as a shadow above the head of the deceased, is a very skilful visual depiction of the last sentences of Solev’s story: “… Putting Mitruš’s bones in the new grave, the old railway worker promised to himself that he would never again prevent him – not move him, not touch him in any way. Even if the city collapses from expanding.”
The last scene of the film very intelligently corresponds to the first image of both texts, Solev’s and Prokopiev’s – the young sapling, carried in a bag on his back and growing in with him – as if a saddle made to fit. The effect of the tree growing in with Krume’s body and rooting next to his son’s grave is a metaphor of the cycle of life and the eternal return.
Although in our text we make a comparison between a writer who belongs to modernism and one who belongs to post-modernism (I always have some reserve saying this, thinking that these rigid borders should always be re-examined, taking into consideration that they will be re-evaluated, rewritten and moved in some other time), we actually put them shoulder to shoulder because of the closeness of their themes – they are both urban writers, of course, each in his own time. In these short stories, both Dimitar Solev and Aleksandar Prokopiev, each with his own author’s and stylistic features, are record takers of the city spirit and the life in it. They have another motif that is typical of them both, the nostalgia for the childhood and past. With Prokopiev the need to revisit the childhood and the search for the fairy-tale like world with all of their magic, invisible to the adult man is very visible. This escapism to childhood themes with Prokopiev seems to bring in lyricism and melancholy in his narrative. This is even more drastic with Solev, who on the other hand, always juxtaposes old age to youth, and death to birth. Although Prokopiev writes his creative imaginations in the intelligently written book Čovečulec as fairy tales, still, his characters are not imaginary or monstrous, but real examples of the everyday life, burdened with existential problems, which, of course, are not stressed as the primary discourse of the text. This is what makes Prokopiev a skilful describer and master of everyday tricks that are rarely noticed by a man who is not a writer or an artist, and one can not be fascinated by them. Unlike Solev, who is very realistic, or better said, naturalistic, Prokopiev puts the description of everyday and everything that comes from it in a meta-discourse which is not so easily decipherable at first reading. Even in the title itself, Čovečulec (Little Man), the reader is facing numerous dilemmas on its potential meanings. Maybe I too would not be clear about what it is, but Prokopiev personally states in an interview: “… the ‘C’ of the čovečule, which otherwise means small man, gives him the spite, consistency and individuality. This čovečulec prefers to fight rather than be a victim and suffer. Sometimes he is bad and unruly, but he is always true to himself!”
Yes, Čovečulec is a small book, but a master piece of the contemporary Macedonian literature, not because it won the most prestigious award in the Balkans – Balkanika, not because it was in the competition for the most prestigious European award Angelus with forty-one European writers, but because it is a novelty in the narrative act, a fresh breath in the selection of the topics, and most of all because of the innovative presentation of the eternal topics of this small literary soil. This novel will remain remembered because of the ingenious film work of the director Žarko Ivanov and the animator Aleksandar Zafirovski who eternalised the short story/novel The Round Trip of a Shadow and earned a significant position in the Macedonian film industry.
1. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988
2. Прокопиев, Александар, Човечулец, Магор, 2011
1. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 297 и 305
2. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 298 и 299
3. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 304 и 305
4. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 305
5. Прокопиев, Александар, Човечулец, Магор, 2011, стр. 44
6. Прокопиев, Александар, Човечулец, Магор, 2011, стр. 46
7. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 306
8. Прокопиев, Александар, Човечулец, Магор, 2011, стр. 44
9. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, Наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 306
10. Солев, Димитар, Кружно патување на сенката, наша Книга, Скопје, 1988, стр. 297
11. Deutsche Welle interview: „Прокопиев: „Човечулец“ е книга за малиот човек и големите вредности“