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October 21, 2021

The 1001 nights in the park

A century ago, Jeno Janovics made film projections at the Summer Theater in Cluj’s Central Park. More than a decade later, the first-ever animation feature film, the fruit of three years of painstaking work by Lotte Reiniger, was shown in Berlin. Cluj residents could had a taste of that incipient cinematic stage at the cine-concert organized by the German Cultural center in Cluj Saturday evening, on the esplanade of the 19th century Viennese style building located at the heart of the Central Park, between the lake and the secular chestnut trees alley. Using wire-tied cardboard silhouettes so that they could be handled, Lotte Reininger presented an Arabian fairytale, `The Adventures of Prince Achmed`, with her husband, Carl Koch, as cameraman, and Wolfgang Zeller, as the musical score composer. Collaborators included Berthold Bartosch, special effects, and Walter Ruttmann, background settings. The plot of the film, which was restored by the German Film Museum in Frankfurt on the artist’s centennial (1899) – is structured in theatrical acts, which increases its dramatic nature, as a discreet syncopate succession of musical themes. The coloring – due to a consequent black-and-white technique – attenuates not just partially the strong contrast, with a strong expressionist nuance. The predilection for fantastic, fear of (spiritual) darkness, the constructivist passion for settings, musical tempo of dramatic conflicts, and deliverance from evil and subtle eroticism will mark a whole period in German cinematography, which makes Lotte Reininger into a genuine precursor. The combination of gothic (abysmal and dramatic), rococo (gracious and luxuriant) and oriental (exotic and magic) – German culture having shown already a complementary passion for Arabian spirituality –gives the film an exquisite tone. The animation is sensual (there is plenty of embraces and kisses), and tension is illustrated less through impulsiveness but is often interiorized by means of light trepidations from some characters who concentrate their movements. The live musical accompanying strengthens the antique choir impression accompanying – emphatically, yet distantly, as a spectator – the wavering unfolding of the plot. The accompanying Transylvania Philharmonic was conducted by German conductor Stefan Geiger. The 1001 Arabian nights were thus shown in Cluj again, after the recent theater performance inspired by a work by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. And this is how the Cluj Park begins to discover a vocation for cultural nocturnes.

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