Izabela Plucińska uses modelling clay to create detailed worlds that are as magical in appearance as they are down-to-earth. Worlds that come alive on the big screen in short animated films that enthral audiences with their imaginative creations. Her cinematographic works can be allocated to the field of claymation. This exceptional artist and renowned filmmaker from Poland, lives and works in Berlin.
Plucińska was born on the 6th of October, 1974 in Koszalin. After commencing studies in Textile Design at the Academy of Fine Art in Łódź, Sculpture proved to be her favourite subject; but at the same time she was inspired by the thought of telling stories cinematically and decided to take up parallel studies at the National Film School in Łódź. Whilst studying Animation, she soon discovered modelling clay to be her preferred working material. In 2003, after successfully graduating from both academies, Plucińska received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service allowing her to study Animation at what is now, “Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf”. She graduated the following year with the film Jam Session, which was made with the assistance of the Nipkow Programm. Her nine-and-a-half-minute piece soon caused a sensation in the international festival scene: The long list of awards Jam Session received includes the Silver Bear at the Short Film Competition of the 55th Berlin International Film Festival, as well as the Silver Dove for “Best Animation Film” at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film (DOK Leipzig) in 2005.
In 2006, Plucińska founded the Berlin production company ClayTraces with former fellow student, Jamila Wenske; and in 2010, producer Robert Kern became her business associate. As the active producer of her own projects, Plucińska is in charge of financing, which to date has mostly come from German, Polish and, as of recently, Canadian film funds. Agata Rojek and Yann Jouette are responsible for the art design and belong to Plucińska’s small, creative circle. Until now, the cinematic fruits of their intensive (collaborative) efforts have enjoyed ongoing success at numerous festivals – such as Filmfest Dresden in Germany, Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France, Warsaw Film Festival in Poland as well as others in Japan, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Great Britain and Mexico. In addition to her continual work as a filmmaker, Plucińska also conducts workshops – in Germany, Austria and Georgia for example. An animated music video, Dimba Hasi was the result of a workshop led in cooperation with Yann Jouette at Kwetu Film Institute in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. At festivals, Plucińska also plays a judgemental role: In 2013 she participated in the national jury at the 25th Filmfest Dresden, alongside the creative producer René Frotscher and actor Sebastian Urzendowsky.
When examining Plucińskas oeuvre to date, one is quick to recognise that the filmmaker’s work reveals a pronounced interest in the combination of poetic and realistic elements, a characteristic already apparent in the first films she made during the course of her studies. While the auditory composition appears to be comparatively realistic, on the visual level, Plucińska creates dreamlike, cinematic realms: In meticulous handiwork, she fashions relief-like pictures with modelling clay, that when animated with stop motion techniques, display fluent transitions of form and colour. Applying the same approach to narration, Plucińska merges realism and poetry, as the films’ fantastic, little tales invariably spring from settings that bear certain connections to reality.
In Hinterhof – filmed in the year 1999 – Plucińska conceives an urban rear-courtyard scenery, captured in strong edge light. Within the short runtime of two-and-a-half minutes, the director uses her claymation techniques to present an ongoing process of transformation. The characters that linger here change into objects – a garbage bin, a sink or an item of laundry, pegged to a line and wafting in the wind –, and even the house facades undergo a metamorphosis. Plucińska readopts the theme of transformation in Doppelgänger, made the following year, which once again begins in urban surroundings. She intertwines the inherent theme with the familiar motif of the menacing doppelganger: An elderly man is pursued by his shadow. After following him into his apartment, the shadow confronts the man and ultimately absorbs him. In Hinterhof and Doppelgänger, Plucińska underscores the handmade nature of her work by leaving visible fingerprints on the figures and backgrounds, for example. The fluid colours create an enchanting atmosphere, in which sounds that are heard, apart from the music – such as a character’s footsteps or the rustling of a newspaper –, invest both claymation films with hints of reality.
While Hinterhof and Doppelgänger both display the characteristics of a crime film, the former, in terms of its setting and the latter through its depiction of someone being tailed, (or quite literally ‘shadowed’), Plucińska turns to another subject in her four-and-a-half-minute piece Auf der anderen Seite (2002), one that can be seen as the leitmotiv of all her further work: love. A lonely photographer dozes off in his studio and dreams himself into the events that are depicted in the photos on his wall. And thus, he suddenly finds himself at a merry wedding or amidst a sociable group of couch potatoes, before he recalls a woman who once came to his modest workplace with her two children to get their picture taken. The protagonist yearns for a chance at family happiness. In the implementation of this moment, Plucińska demonstrates just how poignantly heartfelt emotions can be conveyed in a face made of modelled clay.
For her graduation film Jam Session, Plucińska adapted the eponymous play by Maciej Zenon Bordowicz with the assistance of Justyna Celeda. In it, she depicts an elderly married couple lying sleepless in their double bed. Their apartment is located above a jazz club, so when a band begins to play at midnight, a good night’s rest is suddenly out of the question. That’s why the husband turns his attention to the dripping tap in the bathroom and the newspaper; the wife makes tea, but only after throwing on her gorgeous red dress from bygone, more passionate days. As the walls of the apartment begin to shake, a box of pictures falls to the floor – and just as in Auf der anderen Seite, the photographs come to life. And thus, the hitherto joyless dwelling becomes a place in which the delight of dancing, intimacy and togetherness is rediscovered. This moment of mutual insight, triggered by a coincidence that enables the protagonists to flee their reciprocate estrangement can be described as a typical Plucińska moment. Such instants can also be found in Breakfast (2006), Afternoon (2012) and in a similar way, Sexy Laundry (2015). Of particular note is the sequence in Jam Session where the husband and wife have to pass one another in the doorway: The white and grey of his singlet and pyjama pants merge with the yellow of her petticoat during the unintentionally close physical contact, leaving traces on both of their clothes (“ClayTraces”!) that they frantically try to remove. In this way, Plucińska skilfully utilises her working material to characterise the married couple’s relationship.
In Breakfast, which was developed for Polish television, the “Plucińska moment” occurs at a breakfast table where a man and woman hardly notice one another – until a fierce wind brings about their unexpected proximity. Black-outlined figures are set against a background of sunflower-yellow modelling clay which, during the course of the film brings window frames, pieces of furniture, a newspaper and kitchen utensils into existence. The everyday marital scene that Plucińska creates culminates in affection. The film was conferred with the Renzo Kinoshita Prize at Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 2008 – for its magical use of animation in the observation of a life moment. Similarly, in Afternoon, a surprising break of routine also leads to a couple’s shared moment of happiness – whereby the occurrence in this case proceeds to the realm of the fantastic, owing to the playfully experimental way in which Plucińska messes with the characters’ black outlines.
Two further films characterised by poetically-fantastic twists include Marathon and 7 More Minutes (both from the year 2008). The first is the result of a directing collaboration with the Slovenian filmmaker Špela Čadež. The screenplay, written by Plucińska and Justyna Celeda, describes a marathon race in a small town that becomes considerably disrupted by the sudden emergence of thick fog and powerful wind, causing the runners to become completely disoriented. As in the films Jam Session, 7 More Minutes and Sexy Laundry, the characters are hardly designed with ideals of beauty in mind. Here, the fantastic is expressed in the participants’ state of uncertainty. In 7 More Minutes, also written in collaboration with Celeda, a place is created that can be interpreted as a passage to the afterworld: After a train crash, four people find themselves on an idyllic beach. They gradually begin to undress before they enter the sea and eventually disappear.
Plucińska’s work is proof that claymation films are able to adequately tackle complex themes such as love and isolation, search of identity and coming of age, or even sickness and death – and that the transferral of subject matter, from the field of literature for example, can become a thoroughly enriching experience. For her longest project to date, the multi award-winning, twenty-five-minute Esterhazy (2009) – Plucińska and Anna Jadowska adapted the eponymous classic children’s book by Irene Dische and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. The adventures of a young hare from a noble family who travels from Vienna to Berlin in 1989 in order to find a spouse, are intertwined with the historical event of the Fall of the Wall, which in this way, can be observed from an entirely new perspective. With Josette und ihr Papa (2010), Plucińska and a small team realised their adaptation of the Eugène Ionesco story of the same name. The absurdity that the French-Romanian author exudes in his writing finds expression in the film version’s distorted sets and colourful chaos, in which a girl’s domestic search for her father takes place. Darling (2013) – another screenplay collaboration with Justyna Celeda – was inspired by Maria Wojtyszko’s theatre play, Uterus. Plucińska’s imagery dives deep into the intellectual world of the main protagonist, who suffers from memory loss and therefore feels like a prisoner in her own home. In the film, Plucińska uses her technique to illustrate how the illness brings about the disintegration of everything one loves. In the cinematographic theatre adaptation Sexy Laundry, modelling clay proves to be an effective method to intensify the tragicomedy and absurdity of the erotic chamber play. Once more, Plucińska allows a married couple to rediscover their feelings for one another – whilst behaving a little “indecently” in a hotel room. As with all of her films, Plucińska again succeeds at creating an engaging little cosmos, full of attention to detail and thereby leaving “ClayTraces” in our hearts.