In this darkly poetic animation, the Polish filmmaker Piotr Dumala offers a highly personal interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel, Crime and Punishment. “My film is like a dream,” Dumala said in 2007. “It is as if someone has read Crime and Punishment and then had a dream about it.”
Dumala’s version takes place only at night. The story is told expressionistically, without dialogue and with an altered flow of time. The complex and multi-layered novel is pared down to a few central characters and events: In the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, a young man named Raskolnikov lies in his dark room brooding over a bloody crime.
He murders an old woman with whom he had pawned his watch. When her younger sister comes home unexpectedly, he murders her too. He confesses to a saintly young woman named Sonya. The sinister eavesdropper Svidrigailov knows of Raskolnikov’s love for Sonya, and of his sins. In the end Svidrigailov takes a pistol and “goes to America” by killing himself.
Dumala completed his half-hour film of Crime and Punishment (Zbrodnia i Kara) in 2000, after three years of work. He has a unique method: He takes a white plaster panel and coats the surface with glue. He then paints over it with a dark color and lets it dry. He uses a knife and sandpaper to engrave his image, creating a hatching effect that gives it a feeling of texture. To add darkness to a light area, he adds more paint with a brush.
It’s a form of “destructive animation.” Each image exists only long enough to be photographed and then painted over to create a sense of movement. It’s a process that sometimes makes Dumala sad. “I think sometimes when I do a drawing in my film, I want to keep it,” he told Melissa Chimovitz of Animation World Network in 1997, “but I must destroy it because this is the technique I use. I must destroy every frame to put in its place another one, the next one, to have movement. This way, sometimes I think it is too much suffering, to destroy all the time what I am doing.”