Medium: film
Year: 1983
Writer/director: Piotr Kamler
Keywords: animation, SF
Country: France, Poland
Language: French
Format: 52 minutes
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 16 July 2012
It's animated SF from a Polish weirdo, made with a grant from the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel of Paris and Centre National du Cinema. Essentially it's the moving equivalent of abstract art. Calling it "surrealism" hardly seems sufficient.
I'll describe the story, which in outline sounds good. Chronopolis is a city whose inhabitants can control time and spend all their days creating incomprehensible things with a sort of pseudo-life. However in practice "incomprehensible" means what it says. They use magnetic force to pull a blob into two blobs, which then start fighting each other. They make flying discs. They hold up spinning geometric shapes. They generate a cloud of predatory black dots which attack the flying discs, then coalesce into bricks and get put on a shelf.
There is no dialogue. There's narration if you're watching the 66-minute 1982 version that was shown at Cannes, but that's all gone if you're watching Kamler's final 52-minute version. We get some scene-setting intertitles at the beginning, in French, but that's it. From then on, you're on your own. If it helps, incidentally, other things that are missing from Kamler's preferred cut include:
1. the explorer flying around the giants
2. more dancing with the explorer and the ball
3. ten minutes from the ending, including more scenes of the immortals and both the ball and the explorer leaving Chronopolis
Oh, yes. Sorry, there's also an explorer. He climbs things. His head looks like what an astronaut wears under his helmet and it would be easy to get him confused with the geometrical shapes. They behave similarly. What's mildly interesting is the way in which these non-living objects interact. They don't talk, but they behave in a way that sometimes resembles feelings. They'll fight. They'll dance. They have life cycles. They'll fondle each other, but then start attacking. Two table lamps appear to make love, while the explorer seems to develop a romantic relationship with his squishy ball. (Later though he'll take a hammer and chisel to it, in order to reach inside and extract something red in a small basket.)
This film is a 52-minute exercise in "what the hell?" It's so abstract that you'll blast through "what does this mean?" and eventually reach the most mind-blowing conclusion of "what if this did have meaning after all?"
The Chronopolitans look nifty. Imagine ancient Egyptian sculptures, but with high collars that reminded me of Time Lords from Doctor Who. This was a big help in trying to keep myself interested, because I can't imagine a better visual representation of the activities of incomprehensible higher-dimensional godlike SF beings. I'd have gone crazy had some Time Lords been quietly doing this stuff in the background in a Doctor Who story. Awesome. Even better though would be to cut this film in two and wrap each half in Doctor Who's opening and closing titles, then show it to fans. The funny bit would be watching their reactions at the "cliffhanger".
So, who's this writer/director? Piotr Kamler only ever made one feature film in his life, plus nine shorts. He was born in 1936 in Warsaw and his last work came out in 1993, so I imagine he's retired now. Apparently it took him five years to make this movie, doing most of the animation and CGI on his own. (CGI? In 1982? Well, I suppose that was the year of Tron's CGI Light Cycles, so it's not impossible.) He's also admitted that his submitted script when getting his funding had nothing to do with his plan for the movie, although that said I don't think his backers were unhappy with the results. It's impenetrable, but they're French. As well as being screened at Cannes, this was also nominated for the International Fantasy Film Award and won Best Children's Film for 1982.
You could, perhaps, impose a religious reading. The Chronopolitans could be likened to gods, while at one point they make a clergyman. It's also quite a good philosophical fit for Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and its blind idiot gods that could destroy mankind in their sleep (e.g. Azathoth), although of course this movie isn't horror at all.
I'm mildly curious about the original, longer version. Since even the short version is likely to make your brain bleed, you might as well make it explode while you're about it. It doesn't have a narrative in any accepted sense, or even characters. You're just there for the trip, really. It simply is, like non-representational sculpture, and it's the audience's job to bend their minds into the shapes required to be receptive to it. Or not. As the case may be. Some people really, really hate this film.
I'm sure Polish animation isn't all like this.