DIRECTED BY: Pater Sparrow

FEATURING: Zoltán Mucsi, László Sinkó, Vica Kerekes, Pál Mácsai

PLOT: When all the rare books in a bookstore are mysteriously replaced by an anonymous book titled “1,” the “Reality Defense Council” steps in to investigate.

Still from 1 (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: 1 aggressively aligns itself with the irrational by making a fascistic institution dedicated to the defense of reality into its chief villain. It’s a professionally made little sleeper of a movie with some outrageously bold and inventive ideas; it would fit comfortably alongside other candidates on the List. Better visibility would help its case.

COMMENTS: 1 is a partial adaptation of the short story “One Human Minute” by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote the novel on which Solaris was based). The story was a fictional review of a fictional book that purported to describe, in voluminous statistical tables, all of human activity that occurs on Earth during one minute’s time (including, for example, the suicide totals, subdivided into the number of hangings, gunshots, and so forth, reports on gallons of blood spilled and sperm ejaculated, etc.). The original story may seem like an insanely ambitious project, but, although 1 quotes extensively from “One Human Minute” and illustrates Lem’s sardonic prose with extensive stock footage montages, the film takes the idea merely as its launching pad. 1, the movie, posits that “1,” the book described by Lem, has been published by some godlike force, and that it has a mystical power to drive men mad. The book appears in a rare bookstore one day, replacing every other volume on the shelf. The store is locked down by a detective and the four people who were present during the event—the wealthy owner, the beautiful clerk, a mute janitor, and an elderly customer who is a “citizen of the Vatican”—are sequestered for questioning. Eventually a copy of “1” finds its way into the streets and is uploaded to the Internet. Those who read the book riot. Meanwhile, the quartet of suspects is whisked away to a government installation/dolphin habitat run by the Reality Defense Institute, where they are drugged and interrogated. Then pears start showing up everywhere. Then things get a little weird. 1 covers a lot of ground: formally, it’s a dark and dystopian parody of a police procedural with surrealist touches, and the original novella’s warning about humanity being swallowed up by statistics is still there. But more than anything 1 seems to be about the notion that reality is subjective, taking the idea that we can do whatever we can imagine to literal extremes. To me, that’s not that inspiring or original of a philosophical concept; then again, so few movies have any ideas at all that it hardly seems fair to criticize 1 for having a weak one. What really matters isn’t the novelty of the idea but of the execution, and here 1 is a winner: it’s constantly fresh, surprising and amusing. It’s clever to see reality grilling imagination in an interrogation room. It’s bizarre when a government agent tears down a poster of a pear, but doesn’t notice that by doing so he has just revealed a real pear hidden in a recess of the wall. The entire notion of a government-sponsored “Reality Defense Institute” dedicated to investigating and prosecuting offenses against reality is a beautiful mockery. 1 is baffling, but its surprises are almost always rewarding. It’s 1, weird movie.

Perhaps ironically, 1 is not available on DVD (or any other format) in Region 1. There is a Spanish Region 2 DVD out there somewhere. According to director Sparrow, “…the main production house, Honeymood Films, for reasons unfamiliar to me stayed aloof from the dvd release… since the distributional rights belong to them, the only thing that I can do is to accept the fact that my first feature will not be officially released on dvd.” This being the digital age, 1 can still be seen by those with rudimentary Google skills (with the director’s blessing). Sparrow has moved on and is currently working on a second feature, Heartsnatcher, an adaptation of a Boris Vian novel.


“Reminiscent of the works of Peter Greenaway (especially 1980’s The Falls) in its vast referential breadth, its mannered blurring of fact and fiction, and the beauty of its tableau-like images, this fever dream of a film conjures up the ineffable presence of God alongside the whiff of dog turd, and defies viewers to determine for themselves both what’s what and what it’s all about.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “tranqilo.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: 1 (2009)”

  1. This sounds as though it owes quite a bit to John Carpenter’s [I]In The Mouth Of Madness[/I], in which the hero strives unsuccessfully to prevent the publication of a novel by a best-selling writer (obviously meant to be Stephen King) which drives its readers mad, causes riots, and massively alters reality, apparently resulting in the extinction of humanity. The origin of the book is mysterious. Its alleged author and various other people involved are its puppets. The author eventually ceases to exist altogether, and perhaps never did in the first place. And the manuscript of the first draft reacts to being destroyed by altering reality so that it still exists. There’s even the specific theme of posters advertising the book being torn down to reveal something else!

    Which in turn owes rather a lot to [I]The King In Yellow[/I], a collection of linked short stories written about 100 years ago by Robert Chambers. I don’t think it’s ever been filmed, but if it has been, it may very well be a List Candidate. Here we have a book – actually the text version of a banned play – which appears to have written and published itself. It’s suggested that the authorities are trying very hard to suppress the play and the book, which is understandable, because, although the early part of the play is very peculiar but harmless – it takes place in a city called Carcosa on an alien planet in a galaxy so ancient that the stars have burnt out and turned black – reading beyond a certain point causes madness, and apparent alterations in reality that may or may not be entirely subjective.

    So, not too many marks for originality! As for execution, I’ll have to take your word for that, since it seems to be pretty hard to find on DVD even in Region 1. Which is a pity, because it sounds as though it’s well worth a look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *