Tag Archives: Polish

CAPSULE: ESCAPE TO THE SILVER GLOBE (2021)

Ucieczka Na Srebrny Glob

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Xawery Żuławski, Małgorzata Braunek, , Krzysztof Zanussi, Janusz Zaorski

PLOT: A documentary on the making of On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski’s adaptation of his great-uncle’s “The Lunar Trilogy.”

COMMENTSOn the Silver Globe is the other notorious Andrzej Żuławski film, although not yet as widely known as Possession. That’s not surprising, knowing the science fiction epic’s troubled production history. Globe was pivotal in many ways. Had it been completed on time, it would have been the largest science fiction film made in Europe at the time, and could have put Żuławski on a different career path had things worked out… perhaps.

Understanding that career path, which Kuba Mikurda lays out in detail, is key to everything in Escape. Via interviews with crew and family members (his brother and oldest son on camera; his ex-wife is heard on audio) and archival interviews with Żuławski, we see the director from his start as an assistant to Andrzej Wadja to directing his first two features. The second, Diabel [The Devil] (1972), got noticed by government authorities and resulted in Żuławski’s exile from Poland… for the first time. He returned to Poland in 1976 to make On the Silver Globe, a large scale sci-fi epic, during an economic crisis. Its cost made it a huge target in the political sphere. Escape does a good job making the political situation clear to audiences. Best of all, it features behind-the-scenes footage of Żuławski at work. It also doesn’t shy away from an unflattering portrait of Żuławski, recognizing him as a brilliant filmmaker, but a man with many issues when it came to interpersonal relations. Escape addresses the dissolution of his family during his first exile (which created the creative fodder for Possession), as well as giving insight on his later years.

Escape from the Silver Globe accomplishes several things. Besides serving as an in-depth look at a film that was just a legend for many years and is now ripe for discovery by audiences, it’s an approachable introduction, especially for Western audiences, to Żuławski and his work.

Escape will be released on Blu-ray by French distributor Le Chat Qui Fume (The Smoking Cat) as a stand-alone, and also as part of a long awaited boxset of Żuławski’s “Polish Trilogy” (The Third Part of the Night, The Devil and On the Silver Globe), which was previously available only in Japan. Unfortunately, it will not have English subtitles. That seems to also be the case with a German release from Camera Obscura. It has been confirmed that there will be a U.S. distributor, but no official announcement has been made at the time of this review.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Oscillating somewhere between Andrei Tarkovsky’s cerebral sci-fi and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s intricate surrealist iconography, On the Silver Globe was all set to mark a critical turning point – not just for Żuławski and Polish filmmaking, but for international cinema at large… [Escape] never falls into the trap of boredom, simulating the contagious energy of a Żuławski picture, and the love and fascination at the heart of this project are truly palpable.”– Marina Ashioti, Little White Lies (festival screening)

 

CAPSULE: AVALON (2001)

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DIRECTED BY: Mamoru Oshii

FEATURING: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski

PLOT: Ash is a master solo-player in the illegal immersive game “Avalon” who risks brain-death in pursuit of the secret level known as “Special A.”

COMMENTS: Tanks rumble down the dilapidated streets of an Eastern European city center. Civilians scurry around frantically; partisans take aim at the lumbering metal beasts. One of these gun-toting figures stands out for her daring maneuvers. Artillery barrels blast, shots burst forth, and a number of figures are hit. They transform into two-dimensional renderings before shattering into thousands of polygonal shards. The lady fighter leaps a-top one of the tanks and… soon the mission is over. Ash awakens in a dingy room and removes her virtual reality head-set. She’s earned some cash from this lawbreaking, but more importantly she’s added to her legend. She is the reigning queen of Avalon.

What follows, to put it politely, is a bit of a dramatic letdown. When your dystopian future is washed in the same sepia and decay as the escapist game which acts as your dramatic vehicle, it helps to have some convincing characters to differentiate between the decrepit future and the decrepit whiz-bang tech. Mamorou Oshii is no stranger to science fiction, no stranger to compelling visuals, and no stranger to techno-cynicism. However, being shackled to in-the-flesh actors and materials-based set-pieces, he has lost his ability to adequately shape the world. It is no surprise that when he is playing with the (then) new CGI wizardry, he shines—a sequence involving a cannon-covered super fortress on wheels is stunning. It is perhaps a surprise, however, and certainly a letdown that the human actors driving the speculative narrative seem to have fewer dimensions than his literal two-dimensional animations.

Reality, morality, choice, perception, and the relationship between man, machine, and the virtual: these are all explored in Avalon, but are explored much better in other Mamorou Oshii films, not to mention the many other CGI/VR movies that arrived en mass in the early aughts. Avalon gets points for being a Polish addition to the genre (the director’s nationality not-with-standing), and for the polish of its look (it is yet another movie which adds up to far less than the sum of its single frames). But the stilted performances become impossible to overlook. There is a blast of beauty-cum-surrealism in the final scene, when Ash reaches the elusive hidden level within the game. For the first time, the film enjoys the full color spectrum, and a diegetic symphony underscores a dramatic encounter. Ultimately, though, Avalon suffers from its anchor to the real world, and acts merely as a reminder that some filmmakers best perform their amazing magic when not constrained by the laws of the mundane.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Neither an out-and-out actioner nor a fully realized study of the psychology of games-playing, pic is still reasonably diverting and has a curio value coming from Mamoru Ishii, director of cult Japanese anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995).”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR

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Severin Films. 15 disc set.

“Folk Horror” is a buzzword that has blossomed over the past decade to become a marketing phrase. It brings to mind things British, pagan and ancient/medieval, usually in that order. This makes for a nice narrow niche to categorize and sell to the audience; if a film has certain elements that are on the checklist checked off, it’s officially Folk Horror®.  The genre even has its Unholy Trinity: The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General. Of course, with some digging, we find that there’s a lot more to the subject to beyond those tentpoles.

It’s a massive subject tackle, and we’re fortunate that the person taking it on is Kier-la Janisse (film-programmer/editor; founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Stories; author of “House of Psychotic Women“) with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), a 192 minute documentary serving as a primer/immersion into Folk Horror. It’s the foundation for “All The Haunts Be Ours,” a massive boxs et with 19 feature films (some making their debut on Blu-ray) and tons of bonus material. In short, this is a college semester course compressed into 15 discs; and although it’s pricey, it’s a lot less than what one would be paying for an actual college class. This is the most ambitious box set  that Severin Films has done to date—and they’ve done collections of Al Adamson, Christopher Lee’s European Films, and Andy Milligan in just the past three years!

Woodlands (the first disc in the set, also available as a standalone release) comprehensively examines Folk Horror, beginning with its roots in folklore and literature and moving into film, starting with that Unholy Trinity and other British films, plus television programs like “The Owl Service,” “Children of the Stones,” “Doctor Who,” and the work of Nigel Kneale. The documentary then shifts to North America, examining it by region: New England (Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King); the South (influences of folk music and Evangelicalism), and the West (Native American lore). After that, the film goes global, focusing on horror in Eastern Europe, Australia, Japan, and Brazil, addressing a lot of films you’ve heard of (Viy, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and the Coffin Joe movies, to name just a few), along with many more that you probably haven’t.

For a 3+ hour documentary, you don’t feel the time drag, and you’ll spend a lot of time afterwards Google-searching availability of titles. Even though it’s a deep dive into the subject, it also feels like it’s just scratching the surface and not even close to being the Last Word in Folk Horror. The subject is thoroughly examined, and even though you could walk away with some sort of definition, “Folk Horror” doesn’t seem “defined” in a way that traps it in a box. It’s a fluid term Continue reading ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR