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Pelikan Blue

Three friends wanting to travel from Communist Hungary to the West stumble onto a lucrative scam of forging rail tickets - innovative animation doc premiered in the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


This talks about Hungary opening its borders and allowing its citizens to travel beyond the iron curtain for the first time in 1985. The problem was that for most school students and ordinary working people, travel was too expensive. 1987-90 was the best time, says one man. Owing to peculiarities in the exchange rate system, it was possible to change East German marks into West German marks and triple the value of your money.

One man was in a queue at a counter with a man named Atos who had enough to clear out that particular counter, but he took pity on the other punters behind him and only took half what he could have had. Petya and another grateful friend of his in that queue later found themselves on a plane to Berlin, then sharing a hotel room with Atos. The three bonded over their desire for foreign travel. In order to travel together more, they decided to buy cheap, forged rail tickets to bring the price down to what they could afford. Sold a ticket with a placename misspelled, and therefore useless, they decided they could forge the tickets themselves and do a better job, and thus began a voyage of discovery. They bought cheap tickets and experimented with numerous cleaning products, discovering that Domestos could remove the cashier’s writing to produce a blank ticket ready to be filled in. Then they found a way to reproduce the official stamp. Suddenly they were off, travelling all around Europe for nothing. Word got around about their trips.

A girl desperate to travel to Paris where her boyfriend was seeing another girl begged Petya for a ticket. The three produced rules for how to use the tickets, the orders started coming in. Pelikan Blue carbon paper writing was easy to forge, Pelikan Black much harder. The three had to be careful as to which rail offices they sent their customers. Then came a day when the process started turning the tickets brown. The rail authorities suspected forging was going on and were trying to make it harder. The three got round it by alkalizing, bleaching and lemon juice. They also started telling others how to do it. Atos got ill and moved to the Netherlands. About an hour in, interview material from the authorities, who were finally catching up with the perpetrators, starts being included. We hear how they found the forgers; how one of them was warned and tried to clear out the evidence before being paid a visit. In the end, the perpetrators got off with a relatively small fine.

The story is told primarily through audio interviews, augmented in the images with a mixture of drawn animation and, given far less screen time, little snippets of live action Super 8 film which thanks to some brilliant editing mesh perfectly with the animated material. The latter employs a bright and colourful palette and is a constant pleasure to watch. If the film occasionally overreaches itself when it gets confusing as to which voice is which, or some of the more technical elements of the forgery fly past a little too fast to take in, the overall flow of what remains a great journalistic story effectively holds the attention.

It’s genuinely fascinating both as a piece of documentary filmmaking and in its use of animation to convey the visual aspects of its story. Well done Tallinn Black Nights for finding it and putting it into the Critics Picks section, the first ever feature in either animation or documentary to be selected for the strand

Pelikan Blue just premiered at the Critics’ Picks Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Jeremy Clarke - 13-11-2023

Jeremy Clarke has been writing about movies in various UK print publications since the late 1980s as well as online in recent years. He’s excited by movies which provoke audiences, upset convent...

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