Starting with its title—Dziwne dziwy, czyli… Baśń o Korsarzu Palemonie—this Polish film is nearly impossible to explain. As soon as the title of the film appears onscreen, the letters of the title morph into question marks and exclamation points, which then melt into a flag adorned with a skull that is smoking a pipe. The skull emits pipe smoke out of its eye, which quickly engulfs the screen. Then, the sun breaks through and shines. And that’s just the first 10 seconds! Add another 30 minutes of uninterrupted surrealist insanity and you begin to get an idea of this incredible piece of film.
Krzysztof Dębowski (pictured left), a veteran of the Polish animation scene, was in the twilight of his career when he made this film in 1986. It’s a difficult film to classify because it doesn’t fit into any conventional timeline of animation history. Some of the character designs are a throwback to the blocky ‘cartoon modern’ style of Sixties and Seventies Eastern European animation, but the facial expressions resemble the crude graphic exaggeration of manga and the cartoonish painted stills foreshadow the Spumco style of the early-1990s. Such efforts to compare the film’s individual elements to other visual work are inadequate though. It is the totality of Dębowski’s vision that is so striking and utterly original.
Dębowski gleefully disregards the Western animator’s narrow-minded obsession with achieving the “illusion of life.” He breaks every rule that is sacred to the character animator and moves things however he damn pleases. His universe functions on the level of pure graphic cinema and exists exclusively on its own terms. Characters distort in grotesque ways, and they move in fits and starts that suggest human locomotion in only the most abstract sense. Dębowski has no use for things like perspective and instead suggests space through design and movement. Effects like waves, clouds and cannon fire are conveyed through gorgeous patterns of shapes and lines that move to their own unique rhythms.