Tribeca Film Center and Columbia University recently organised a rediscovery of Piotr Szulkin’s works in New York. It was followed by a panel of critics who discussed the universal character of the director’s works, which aren't that well known in the USA.
The presentation of Wojna światów – Następne stulecie / The War of the Worlds – Next Century (25.03.2015) and of O-bi, O-ba: Koniec cywilizacji / O-bi, O-ba: The End of Civilisation (27.03.2015) and the discussion panel that followed the screenings attracted a sophisticated audience. The cinema of the prestigious New York university was dominated by the young.
O-bi, O-ba: The End of Civilisation (1984), which tells the story of survivors of a nuclear war who remain in a bunker, waiting to be saved by a cosmic “Ark”, was recognised as still topical today. It profoundly denudes humans’ attitude and behaviour in the face of a crisis. It was this film that made up the leading topic of the discussion panel.
One can’t help but associate the year of Piotr Szulkin's film production with George Orwell’s novel 1984. Elements of the grotesque and absurd bring about connotations to Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Król czyli Polacy / Ubu the King, or The Poles, and the psychological state of the characters – to Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and Andriej Tarkowski.
To Stephanie Zacharek from the Village Voice weekly, this film illustrates a universal idea of hope for the hermetic society, living in despair, in desperate conditions. Richard Porton of the Cineaste spoke about the struggles similar to those experienced by characters of German expressionism films, such as Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang), in their endeavour to reach illusory aims.
Simon Abrams of the RogerEbert.com pointed out at the original handling of the symbol of salvation – the biblical ark. Eliza Cushman Rose of Columbia University spoke about technologies which destroy humanity and about mechanisms of power, manipulation, cynicism and indifference.
The situation of the Poles at the time provoked interpretation of the film as a metaphor of martial law and the Solidarność struggle. Stuart Liebman of The City University of New York related O-bi, O-ba: The End of Civilisation to the tragedy of the Holocaust.
The panel participants didn’t skip the artistic values of the film, which was recently digitally restored. They complemented Witold Sobociński’s camera-work:
This film is fascinating for numerous reasons. To me, even more for its aesthetics than its subject matter, however its definitely powerful and intriguing for its portrayal of the universal idea of despair, desperation and political issues. It’s less showy than American science fiction films, but it impresses with the author’s imagination and the abundance of ideas. I was impressed by how the director managed to accomplish so much with a modest budget.
– Zacharek commented.
Porton, in turn, was especially struck by Szulkin’s ability to combine issues of the past, presence and future with an expanded imagination and the film’s multiple levels of interpretation.
Porton believes that even though American sci-fi films contain a higher dose of optimism, Szulkin’s film can engage American audiences as well – because of the film’s universal character.
One doesn’t need to be a scientist or an expert on Polish issues to appreciate this film. Maybe it wouldn’t be a mass audience, but certainly a large one.
– the critic added.
According to Michał Oleszczyk, who led the discussion panel, Poles usually interpret Szulkin’s films one-dimensionally – as an allegory for communism.
The panel participants prove that there isn’t a single explanation to Szulkin’s work, that it can be understood in numerous ways. A Polish artist can arise on an international scene in no other way but in such a dialogue.
– Oleszczyk said.
Rediscovering Piotr Szulkin was organised by Polish Filmmakers NYC and The Polish Student Society of Columbia University, in co-operation with the Polish Film Institute.
Source: PAP - Andrzej Dobrowolski, edit. TS, transl. Agata Dudek, 31/03/15