Tag Archives: Stanislaw Lem

LIST CANDIDATE: 1 (2009)

Recommended

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.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“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.)

95. SOLARIS [SOLYARIS] (1972)

“”This exploration of the unreliability of reality and the power of the human unconscious, this great examination of the limits of rationalism and the perverse power of even the most ill-fated love, needs to be seen as widely as possible before it’s transformed by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron into what they ludicrously threaten will be ‘2001 meets Last Tango in Paris.'”–Salman Rushdie on the (since realized) prospect of a Solaris remake

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet,

PLOT:  In the indefinite future, mankind has set up a space station orbiting Solaris, a mysterious planet covered by an ocean that exhibits signs of consciousness.  Several of the crew members studying the planet demonstrate eccentric behavior and possible signs of mental illness, and psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to the station to evaluate them and decide whether the program studying Solaris must be scrapped.  On board the satellite Kelvin discovers an incarnation of his wife, who has been dead for seven years, and falls in love with the hallucination.

Still from Solaris (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • For information on director Tarkovsky, see the background section of the entry for Nostalghia.
  • Solaris was based on a 1961 novel by Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem.  Tarkovsky’s version was actually the second adaptation; the story had been filmed previously by Boris Nirenburg for Soviet television.  Steven Soderberg created an American version in 2002 starring George Clooney; it was a modest success with critics, but a commercial flop.
  • Solaris won the Special Jury Prize (the second most prestigious award) at Cannes; the Palme d’or was shared by two realistic, political Italian films (The Working Class Goes to Heaven and The Mattei Affair) that are now almost forgotten.
  • Although commentators frequently claim that Solaris was created as a reaction to s 2001: A Space Odyssey, cinematographer Vadim Yusov says that the director had not seen the 1968 space epic until filming had already begun.  We can safely assume, however, that Soviet authorities were aware of the film, likely viewed it as propaganda for the American space program, and were more than happy to finance a 2001 response with cosmonauts as the cosmic heroes.
  • Tarkovsky liked Natalya Bondarchuk’s initial audition for the role of Hari, but thought she was too young for the role (she was only 17 at the time).  He recommended her to another director for a different part and continued casting.  A year later Bondarchuk had completed her movie, Tarkovsky still had not cast Hari, and she still wanted the role.  The director was impressed enough with her work and persistence to relent, ignore the age difference between  her and leading man Donatas Banionis, and make her his Hari.  Later Tarkovsky would comment in his diary that Bondarchuk’s performance “outshone them all.”
  • The weird seascapes of Solaris’ surface were created in the studio using an acetone solution, aluminum powder, and dye.
  • American reviewers gave Solaris largely negative reviews on its Stateside release in 1976; in their defense, however, the version then screened here was badly dubbed and had a half-hour cut from the running time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: During thirty seconds of scheduled weightlessness, Kris and Hari slowly rise in the air.  A chandelier tinkles, a slow Bach organ chorale plays, and a lit candelabrum and open books float past them as they embrace.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though Solaris is far from Tarkovsky’s weirdest movie—in fact, it may be his most accessible—any movie in which a cosmonaut falls in love with an avatar of his dead wife that’s been created from his memories by an intelligent planet starts off on an oddish note. When Tarkovsky points his dreamy camera at this scenario and applies his typically hypnotic and obliquely philosophical style, the weird notes push to the forefront. The currents rippling in psychologist Kris Kelvin’s troubled subconscious turn out to be as mesmerizing as the ultramarine undulations of the surface of Solaris itself.


Criterion Collection trailer for Solaris (1972)

COMMENTS: Thirty minutes into Solaris Burton, a minor character, takes an almost five Continue reading 95. SOLARIS [SOLYARIS] (1972)