The film Maska is an adaptation of Stanisław Lem's 1974 story of the same title. This is the third production after Street of Crocodiles and Inwentorium śladów where the Quay Brothers draw inspiration from Polish writers and thinkers.
The decision to adapt a Polish short story is not the only factor linking this film to Poland. The music was composed by renowned Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, and the film's co-producers were the Se-Ma-For film studio, the Polish Institute in London, as well as other Polish organizations.
However, in contrast to the previous films, Maska is not explicitly set in Poland, because the film takes place in an unspecified place and time where feudalism is intertwined with sophisticated technology. The axis of the film's plot and story can be found in one of the sentences uttered by the heroine: "I was a machine chasing a sage, who dares sit on a throne”. However, around this narrative axis, the filmmakers spin several psychological, philosophical and social webs.
One of the fundamental questions posed in the film is the question of identity. Maska opens the sequence of creation of the heroine. A result of conscious act of the protagonist's creation are also her subjectivity and sexuality (the character transitions from the neuter "it" to the feminine “she”). Since she is also devoid of memories, she is also other characters: Duenna, Hrabianka and Sierota, who are miscible in the genealogies designed by the creator. The main character is a robot hidden in the body of a woman. She is seductive, full of feelings and doubts and learns – during the desperate act of self-mutilation – that she is in fact a robot, discovering the "silver scorpion” beneath her skin.
At the time of her production by The King – but not since the beginning of her consciousness – she has a mission: to kill the sage. This goal, however, stands in opposition to the feelings that are born in a woman-machine, and until the very last scene the viewer does not know which will prevail: the pre-programmed mission or love.
The philosophical ambiguity of the character's identity was also emphasized in an interview with the directors by Adrian Prodeus for Dwutygodnik ("The public view in the shade of privacy" in dwutygodnik.com.pl): "It is a programmed copy that does not have an original – a Simulacrum".
The search for one's identity, a deadly mission and a romantic subtext are interwoven with reflections on the nature of absolute power, the moral dilemmas posed by the gap between orders and conscience, as well as reflections on the nature of film. The emerging theme in the first scene is that of voyeurism, and the theme returns like a refrain throughout the film, as the story develops. The awareness of being viewed, and manipulated by it, manifested by the heroine in the words: "From behind the round glasses something stared at me, and this stare was moving away, but I think I was the one in motion, entering into a growing circle of yet another observation”.
Maska was originally planned as a silent film – without the use of spoke words. During preproduction the filmmakers decided to enrich it with a monologue spoken by the main character. – based on the original short story. During the adaptation, however, Lem's language style was abandoned and was substantially upgraded, while keeping intact the internal layers of verbal humour. This monologue, read with great aplomb by Magdalena Cielecka, is not only the driving force behind the action, but also provides the necessary elements to make a puzzle, because both the story and the way it is told encourages the viewer to look for encrypted meaning entangled by the directors within the story. This strategy was confirmed by the Quay brothers in the aforementioned interview in Dwutygodnik:
We did not want the puppets to be too realistic, nor to become concrete forms, which have a definite character – they must be encrypted symbols of something rather more substantial. They have to be more elusive and enigmatic, so that the viewer can find a hidden meaning even before themselves.
The film was made in a puppet stop motion technique, and is based on rhythmic repetitions, fuzzy, blurry frames – a play of light and dark. The creators justify these treatments in an interview with Kuba Mikurda and Michał Oleszczyk, explaining that "The changes in focus, blurring and sharpening of the image can be treated as a kind of counterpoint, which enables one to find a musical rhythm."
For the Philadelphia-born artists, music the materia prima – it is from this that a film evolves, and not the other way round. They treat the score as a guide to the characters' actions, lighting, change in pace and camera work. Working with Krzysztof Penderecki's compositions turned out to be very fruitful: the film score won several awards including one at the prestigious festival in Annecy.
Stanisław Lem (1921 -2006) was one of the best loved science-fiction writers. Many of his stories and novels have been turned into film, perhaps the most famous of which is the 1971 adaptation of his outer-space novel “Solaris” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972. Among Stanisław Lem's other novels are “His Master's Voice” (“Głos pana”, 1968), and “Fiasco” (“Fiasko”, 1987).
- "Maska", Poland 2010. Director, cinematography, scenography, puppets, animation, editing: Stephen Quay and Timothy Quay; Screenplay based on the short story "Maska" by Stanisław Lem: Stephen Quay and Timothy Quay; Music: Krzysztof Penderecki; Sound: Janusz Czubak; Voice acting: Magdalena Cielecka; Producers: Marlena Łukasik, Zbigniew Żmudzki; Co-producers: Paweł Potorczyn, Michał Merczyński, Wojciech Juszczak, Roland Chojnacki; Production: Se-Ma-For Produkcja Filmowa, Polish Cultural Institute in London, co-production: Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the National Audiovisual Institute, Estrada Poznańska, Render 305. Running time: 24 minutes.
III place in the fiction film category, CutOut Fest Festival Internacional de Animacion, Queretaro (Mexico) 2010
Student jury award, 17th "Etiuda & Anima" International Film Festival, 2010
Main award in the animation category, Athens International Film and Video Festival 2011 in Ohio, USA
Main award in the short-film category (15-60 minute) at ANIFEST 2011 in Teplice, Czech Republic
Best short film, International Film Festival of Uruguay 2011;
Best original music, Festival International du Film d'Animation Annecy 2011
Short Wave Award, 19th Curtas Vila Do Conde, Portugal, 2011
Special Jury Prize at the Monstra Festival in Lisbon, Portugal
Autor: Mariusz Frukacz, June 2011
Edited and translated by Roberto Galea, October 2011