On the Silver Globe (1988)

Zulawski’s unfinished sci-fi epic, disrupted by the then Communist Polish government, about the perils of forming a new civilisation on an inhospitable planet is manic, ambitious if somewhat befuddling filmmaking at its best, rendered generously with jump cuts, astonishing imagery and the commitment to highly-physical performances. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,259

Dir. Andrzej Zulawski
1988 | Poland | Drama/Sci-Fi | 165 mins | 1.66:1 | Polish
R21 (passed clean) for sexual scene

Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela, Grazyna Dylag, Waldermar Kownacki, Iwona Bielska
Plot: A small group of cosmic explorers, including a woman, leaves Earth to start a new civilization. They do not realize that within themselves they carry the end of their own dream.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Source: WFDIF

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Civilisation, Prophecy, Political Allegory
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

I have to admit that previously I tried watching a few of Andrzej Zulawski’s films and couldn’t make it through.  So when the chance came to view On the Silver Globe, I was hesitant.  But this is a sci-fi epic, running nearly three hours—how often do you hear of something like that that isn’t a Russian movie? 

Having garnered comparisons to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), which to me is far more meditative and in the vein of slow cinema, and Aleksei German’s Hard to Be a God (2013), which shares closer visual and thematic similarities, On the Silver Globe is manic, ambitious if somewhat befuddling filmmaking at its best. 

It’s a singular experience to behold, to say the least, about several astronauts who leave Earth, landing on an inhospitable planet, and through procreation forming an entirely new civilisation over decades that is now facing a formidable threat posed by bird-like creatures. 

“In the end, every reduction to physiology is a fascism of the soul.”

It may sound straightforward, but Zulawski’s storytelling renders it somewhat indecipherable, though still moderately comprehensible in broad thematic brushstrokes of power and survival, cutting in between various timelines and even scenes on Earth (most of which were narrated over as the film was unfinished when the production was disrupted by the then Communist Polish government in the late ‘70s). 

Despite the generous use of jump cuts that would make Godard blush in disbelief, the cast’s commitment to highly-physical performances in spite of the heavy makeup and even heavier costumes, as well as some of the most astonishing imagery committed to celluloid, On the Silver Globe is not for everyone, though it warrants a reappraisal after being under the radar for so long.   

It has already been weeks, but there are two scenes still deeply etched in my mind—impaled humans sitting dead on five-storey high poles; and a cavern of fully nude men and women writhing about in utter distress. 

Grade: A-



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