A Joan Miró-Inspired Animation of Federico García Lorca’s Poem, “Romance Sonámbulo”

What toddler is transfixed by a poem of tragically thwarted desire?

Thousands of them, thanks to “The Sleepwalker,” animator Theodore Ushev‘s creative interpretation of Federico García Lorca’s poem, “Romance Sonámbulo.”

Ushev starts by scrapping the words, in favor of a purely visual language that draws heavily on the work of Lorca’s contemporary, surrealist painter Joan Miró.

Would Lorca have approved?

Possibly. He had great admiration for Miró, whose paintings he declared “the purest of all images” in a public lecture on modern art at Grenada’s Athenaeum:

They come from dream, from the center of the soul, there where love is made flesh and incredible breezes of distant sounds blow.

Animator Ushev is another who’s put a lot of stock in dreams:

I wanted to create a joyful film, that makes the public happy – inexplicably happy. The surrealist movement was a play, a game itself. I often start my masterclasses with the quotation, “The life is a dream (and everything is a game).” It is a modified version of the romantic belief of another Spanish writer – Pedro Calderón de la Barca. This little film can be seen as such – an allegory over the joy and mystery of life.

His take may confuse those who’ve been debating the original poem’s far-from-joyful meaning.

There are recognizable forms … Lorca’s “gypsy girl,” for instance.

What’s going on?

Ask a toddler what’s he or she sees.

A wounded contraband runner dragging himself back to his forbidden lady love?

A grief-stricken Juliet throwing herself in a cistern?

More likely, dancing, and lots of it, thanks to the irresistible score – Bulgarian musician Kottarashky’s “Opa Hey.”

(Ushev made a conscious decision to expand the gypsy theme beyond Lorca’s native Andalucía to the Balkan region.)

“Romance Sonámbulo”

Green, how I want you green.

Green wind. Green branches.

The ship out on the sea

and the horse on the mountain. 

With the shade around her waist 

she dreams on her balcony, 

green flesh, her hair green, 

with eyes of cold silver. 

Green, how I want you green. 

Under the gypsy moon, 

all things are watching her 

and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green. 

Big hoarfrost stars 

come with the fish of shadow 

that opens the road of dawn. 

The fig tree rubs its wind 

with the sandpaper of its branches, 

and the forest, cunning cat, 

bristles its brittle fibers. 

But who will come? And from where? 

She is still on her balcony 

green flesh, her hair green, 

dreaming in the bitter sea.

—My friend, I want to trade 

my horse for her house, 

my saddle for her mirror, 

my knife for her blanket. 

My friend, I come bleeding 

from the gates of Cabra.

—If it were possible, my boy, 

I’d help you fix that trade. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—My friend, I want to die

decently in my bed. 

Of iron, if that’s possible, 

with blankets of fine chambray. 

Don’t you see the wound I have 

from my chest up to my throat?

—Your white shirt has grown 

thirsty dark brown roses. 

Your blood oozes and flees a

round the corners of your sash. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—Let me climb up, at least, 

up to the high balconies; 

Let me climb up! Let me, 

up to the green balconies. 

Railings of the moon 

through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up, 

up to the high balconies.

Leaving a trail of blood. 

Leaving a trail of teardrops. 

Tin bell vines

were trembling on the roofs.

A thousand crystal tambourines 

struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green, 

green wind, green branches. 

The two friends climbed up. 

The stiff wind left 

in their mouths, a strange taste 

of bile, of mint, and of basil 

My friend, where is she—tell me—

where is your bitter girl?

How many times she waited for you! 

How many times would she wait for you, 

cool face, black hair, 

on this green balcony! 

Over the mouth of the cistern

the gypsy girl was swinging, 

green flesh, her hair green, 

with eyes of cold silver. 

An icicle of moon

holds her up above the water. 

The night became intimate 

like a little plaza.

Drunken “Guardias Civiles”

were pounding on the door. 

Green, how I want you green. 

Green wind. Green branches. 

The ship out on the sea. 

And the horse on the mountain.

Read “Romance Sonámbulo” in the original Spanish here

Read an interview with animator Ushev here.

Related Content:

Patti Smith Reads Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Little Viennese Waltz” in New York City

Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Original Spanish)

Watch Animations of Two Italo Calvino Stories: “The False Grandmother” and “The Distance from the Moon”

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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