Thursday 7 February 2013

Na Srebrnym Globie (1977)

I've been rather inconsistent on the issue of whether or not to translate film titles to English.  My reasoning so far seems to be 'which title is more famous?', as calling 'Das Boot' (1981) 'The Boat' would seem absurd, whereas everyone seems to have heard of 'Downfall' (2004) but few would know what I was talking about if I called it 'Die Untergang'.  When it comes to obscurer films, such as 'Na Srebrnym Globie' (That's 'On the Silver Globe', in Polish) I'm inclined to go with the title I like more, even (or perhaps especially) if I can neither spell nor pronounce it.

The silver globe of the title is as unnamed planet, but every shot seems to be tinted chilly blue rather than silver.  This is a grim Polish sci-fi film (and, since my only other experience of Polish film is 1988's Dekalog, I have it in mind that all Polish cinema is very grim indeed).  This film was handed to me with a warning.  Two warnings, in fact - firstly that the film was pretty unpleasasant (I worried little, for the blog already had a tag for 'horrible films' which needed filling out), and secondly that it was incomplete.  Only four fifths of Na Srebrnym Globie' were ever filmed, as the Polish minister for culture ordered production to cease prematurely.  The unfilmed portions are represented here by passages of curt and uncharismatic narration over wild and inappropriate footage of modern Polish streets and traffic, the underground system, and one lengthy shot of pedestrians riding an escalator.

The Old Man regards a corpse

So it happens like this: a space-ship crash-lands on a planet and the astronauts saunter about variously dying and making intense philosophical monologues; I wondered for a while whether this rambling was improvisation, but since the film is based on a novel I assume a script was involved somewhere.  One of them gives birth to a child who grows up at an amazing rate.  If I've understood it rightly (and I found the whole thing rather confusing, so the rest of my summary may be way off the director's intention), anyone born on the planet ages at a tremendous pace, meaning that an entire tribe of humans grows up and passes through several generations, while the sole surviving astronaut, Jerzy, gets gradually older, eventually becoming 'the Old Man', a miserable codger hailed as a demi-god.

The astronauts have brought a film-camera with them, and the majority of the film's first half is seen through the lens of this camera, with the old man speaking directly to it and using it to record all that he sees.  This lends the film a unusually experimental, 'realistic' style (I've become wary of using the word 'realistic' with regards to films, as it means too little and too much), and leaves it seeming both grounded and avant-garde.  At the film's mid-point the old man returns to his rocket and sends the footage he's gathered back to Earth.  Then he dies, I think.

That may be a blue-skinned orgy in the background, by the by

In the second half of the film, an astronaut called Marek comes to visit.  Since he comes from Earth (a name which passed into legend during the Old Man's time) he's hailed as the Messiah.  Andrzej Seweryn chooses to pitch his performance AT THE TOP OF HIS VOICE almost from the time he enters the story, so it's hard to tell whether he's getting more histrionic as he witnesses the many horrible and distressing things that happen throughout the rest of the film.  The film's DVD cover makes no secret of the fact that he gets crucified at the end, though by that point the film had confused me so much that I couldn't tell you why.

Since so much of the film is absent, and so bleak, bewaffling and disturbing, I found it very hard to engage on any emotional level with the characters.  This, coupled with the duration (two and a half hours, and it would be longer if all of it had been shot) made it hard to give the film my full attention.  It's not as if there was a shortage of incident or colour (though the latter, as I say, was almost wholly blue).  The people of the planet find themselves at war with the indigenous Szerns, strange bird-faced angel statues, who look like something I might have cooked up during my alarming-mask-making-phase.  The civilisation grows, their hats and collars expand until they're larger than their wearers, characters call themselves actors and replace the originals, the 'actor' doubling Marek becoming a second Marek.  With no explanation I could find, there are suddenly flashy cars and ruined streets and radios playing something like rock and roll, as if society has evolved another 500 years between scenes, giving the impression that someone is cheating in a particularly stark and bewildering game of Civilization.  Checking with Opai (the lender of the film) it seems this sudden advance is probably a move to the continent of the Szerns, whose progress happens to have mirrored 20th Century Earth.  I may join Opai in watching this film exactly once, and never again.

An unhappy ending, for some reason

If I hadn't been told when this film was made, I would have struggled to guess.  The quality of the colour, lighting and film are (perhaps deliberately, perhaps not) pretty wretched - the action becomes so dark as to be almost invisible whenever a cloud pops in front of the sun - that I might have expected some time in sixties; but the design of the tribe's clothing feels like it belongs in a nineties sci-fi, and some of their pleasingly unusual array looks like it belongs in early noughties club-wear.

As it happens, the film in fact belongs in 1977, the year of 'Star Wars'.  The two really have nothing in common aside from this, and their existence in the same decade is a little surprising.  But while 'Star Wars' was a very enjoyable swashbuckler using only the aesthetics of science fiction, 'Na Srebrnym Globie' is SF right down to its heart, for good or ill.  It's the less good of the two films, that seems fairly clear, though an awful lot of that is down to the incompleteness of this Polish tragedy, and the necessarily unsatisfactory moves to fill in the gaps.

I'm disinclined to condemn it for its being not very enjoyable, as this might well be a bold and deliberate move towards making something mature, intelligent and complicated.  It doesn't really work, or didn't for me, and if you're not intrigued by what little I've said, I'd really give it a miss if I were you.  If you're like me though - up for any gruelling viewing challenge for its own sake - you may find it strangely irresistible, and then be bored and confused and fascinated and then bored again, which is the wrong sort of emotional rollercoaster, really.

Have I convinced you that you have to see this film?  No?  Well, these bits are mainly decorative, really.

1 comment:

  1. Your description of watching this film reminds me a little of Train To Hell - a curious film starring a young Hugh Grant. It's dreadful, but quite short. From what I remember (having watched it only once) he's taking a train across Eurpoe, and gets visions of being vaguely threatened by Malcolm McDowell, until they all arrive in Venice when for some reason the director seemed to start making a different film entirely, which suddenly finishes without resolving any of the plotlines. Unfortunately it was made in 1993, and you've already reviewed a film from that year...