Wlodzimierz Haupe and Halina Bielinska, “The Changing of the Guard / Zmiana warty” (1958)
A simply made stop-motion animation piece, this little film is a tragic tale of romantic love that crosses social class and conventions, and causes a scandal in the town where it occurs. The characters are matchboxes representing stereotypes of class. An anonymous soldier falls in love with a beautiful princess; he finagles his way into night-watch duty just so he can see her. While on duty, he gazes at her window and she appears; she comes out to him and their love, hitherto unfulfilled due to their respective social roles and the restrictions upon them, literally bursts into the open in flames.
The narrative is carried by the soundtrack and consists of various noises real people might make: snoring sounds when the soldiers go to bed, and the sighings of the soldier and the princess when they see each other and meet. There is martial music during one scene where soldiers are being drilled.
At the film’s end, the town burghers where the soldiers’ regiment was quartered put up signs stating “No Smoking!” in several languages: this is a message to all citizens to repress their real feelings and thoughts and to obey the rules.
The animation which consists of stop-motion cut-outs of match-boxes and cut-outs of props against a bare stage and background throws the emphasis on the story. The plot is easy to follow up to the point where the soldier and the princess sacrifice themselves for love. Although the mood is neutral, the denouement is quite chilling.
It’s a well-made film whose message will be clear to both children and adults on different levels: children will see it as a love story and adults will see it as an allegory about how love can conquer the strictures placed on people by society, albeit briefly. That the town throws further constraints onto the expression of love is an acknowledgement of how powerful love can be.