A-Z of Space
Never mind the Golden Globes, Andrzej Zulawski has THE SILVER GLOBE.
Jings. Cripes. Crumbs. Wow. Sheesh. Jeepers. Wow. Whew. Blimey. Crikey. Golly. Gee. Gosh. Whoa. Strewth. Heck. Flip. Jehosephat. Bismillah. Criminy. Holy cow/moley/crap/shit.
Not sure if I actually enjoyed this.
But it’s like nothing on Earth. Authentically alien science fiction.
Zulawski’s usual tropes — a camera that flies at the actors like it wants to rip their throats out, and actors that fly at the camera like they want to repay the compliment — are combined with amazing costume design, locations (beautiful Polish desolation and industrial enormousness) and a real megabudget, all at the service of a madly poetic concept, which I couldn’t really follow thanks to mystifying subtitles. Only gradually did I realise that the subs were just plain WRONG a lot of the time. With everything else being so weird, it seemed quite plausible that a character might be saying “Perhaps it’s the time to say the Republic is in real danger, and that we are cowards who must protect courage, and sexes, and the beauty of the body, and search for love.” I mean, in a film where a character delivers a monlogue while suspended in mid-air with a twenty foot needle jammed up his jacksie, anything seems possible. But when a character told the familiar story of the appointment in Samarra, and told it very badly, it became clear that garbled translation was robbing the film of much of its “sense”.
The film is long — 2hrs 37mins — but incomplete, having been shut down by the Polish authorities before completion. Footage lost when the film was in limbo appears to be permanently gone. Cast and crew hid as many of the costumes as possible, in hopes that filming might one day recommence. But there’s no longer any prospect of the film being completed according to plan. In the end, what we have is Zulawski’s beautiful reconstruction, where his own V.O. fills in the missing action, over shots of trees, churches, despondent Poles descending escalators… This material actually provides a breathing space in his rather overwhelming epic.
Apart from the distracting mistranslations, there’s the fact that most of Zulawski’s cast shout every line — A-Z is a director who always favours the excitable performer, and has managed to hype even relatively restrained players like Sam Neill into a state of hysteria, while provoking fits of madness from Isabelle Adjani that go beyond even herself in craziness. Here, a casual viewer might surmise, to paraphrase Ray Walston in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, “They’re all on drugs!” But they’re not, they’ve just been subjected to Zulawski’s secret method of directing-to-a-frenzy.
Plus, due to Zulawski’s decision not to fully adjust for daylight, they’re all pale blue, like Scots. The tinting creates a rather airless quality, which adds to the stifling effect of a story that tends to sit still for long periods (the second half-hour pretty much takes place entirely on a beach) even as the camera rushes about like Ian Charleston in CHARIOTS OF FIRE.
BUT! It’s a masterpiece. Or at any rate, an extraordinary thing.
I suspect the film’s partial destruction drove A-Z into the arms of Sophie Marceau… leading to a successful collaboration, career reinvention for both of them, and a child.
With the heavy design, limited palette, and wide-angle lens vibe, the spirit of Gilliam (without the humour — near as I can tell, without ANY humour) is invoked, but you have to remember that when this film was made, Gilliam hadn’t directed any solo features… Strangely, THE SILVER GLOBE resembles this Scottish lager commercial more than it resembles anything else…