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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 05.13.10] Hungary movie review scifi

Year: 2009
Directors: Pater Sparrow
Writers: Stanislaw Lem / Judit Góczán / Pater Sparrow
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 6 out of 10

[Editor's note: for some counter arguments you can read Rick's review]

Based on a short story by Stanislaw Lem, 1 is a loose reworking of the Pandora's Box myth, dangerous knowledge unleashed through curiosity only to overpower the world. It's a grand sweep of an idea that should make an exciting and cerebral film. Unfortunately 1 falls foul of some problems common of short story adaptations, while there are questions about the central subject matter too.

Pandora's Box is in this case a book, simply entitled 1, copies of which have overnight replaced the entire stock of a famous rare bookshop. It's a puzzling event that the bookshop owner and his assistant Maya are confounded by, while a mute employee and an eccentric elderly customer emerge as possible suspects. The police are called and a gruff detective takes over the case, imprisoning everyone in an enigmatic rainforest institution that conducts research into the paranormal. Meanwhile the book's text is leaked and pored over, causing widespread panic around the world.

Unusually, some of 1's more successful scenes involve an expositional voiceover describing the book's content and effect, often accompanied by pieces of old black and white footage. The book is made up of nothing but numbers and equations, but sums up the human experience: all the deaths, lives and loves of the world in concise numerical form.

You can forgive the impossibility of such a tome in what is after all a piece of fiction, but the effect it has on those who read it is less easy to excuse. The voiceover itself speaks of the impossibility of empathising with thousands of deaths, while just one can move you to tears, so why do these reams of abstract data invoke madness and waves of suicides across the world? They just wouldn't. This is a serious flaw in the central premise of the story that invokes something Quiet Earth's very own Bob Doto cited in his recent review of Brilliant Love: it takes time and effort to make art. You can't just whip some up for your film. The book at the centre of 1 doesn't make any sense.

Nevertheless it opens up interesting philosophical questions, and I'm sure 1's fans have counter arguments that could have us debating forever. In pure film making terms though, the plot that surrounds this premise bares all the hallmarks of the badly-adapted short story. The characters are mere ciphers filling stereotypical roles, bland and unremarkable. The familiar feeling that a short, punchy page-turner has been unnecessarily muddied to fill ninety minutes is raised by a meandering and difficult to follow plot; some of which, in particular a power struggle between the police working on the case, is pretty extraneous. I have a terrible feeling that I may have missed something that could explain 1's confusing metaphysical final scenes, but lay the blame on an increasingly boring, dialogue-heavy viewing experience rather then my own powers of concentration.

Many people like this film and I would urge anyone interested to see it for themselves. There is undoubtedly beauty in its dusty, sepia-tinged art direction, complexity in its plot and questions raised by its premise. I would argue it is skin deep though, a nonsense central idea dressed up in a web of complicated but meaningless philosophy. It would be excusable in a more fantastical piece, but not in a film that takes itself as seriously as this one.

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brettlv5506 (12 years ago) Reply

I really hope this comes out on dvd or even the internet sometime.


ungoliant (12 years ago) Reply

I feel beautiful fear. This might kick ass.

yes. dvd. I want it now.

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