Are you Aware of the Existence of Other Films?
September 2021 marks the centenary of Stanisław Lem‘s birth. The writer has had numerous of his works made into films. Among the most well-known are Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Ikarie XB-1 (1963) by Jindrich Polák. Lem is quoted saying that he didn’t like any of the adaptations of his works, except for Andrzej Wajda’s comical Layer Cake (Przekladaniec 1968). When Pater Sparrow’s 1 opened in 2009, Lem was already dead, so we don’t know what he would think about it. It’s based on the short One Human Minute, which was designed by Lem as a review of a non-existent book that comprises all human activity in one minute, displayed with a dizzying amount of facts and statistics.
Sparrow’s film begins with a voice explaining that “This book is no joke.” and continues by saying that it’s a book that could insult the whole of mankind. At least there is solace in the fact that “no one could make it into a film. Nowadays, publishers and authors find nothing more tempting than a book that everyone buys but no one needs to read.” A statement that is even more apt today when bookshops sell books by the meter to fill bookshelves decoratively. The narration is read over a myriad of documentary clips being screened. Then the story begins in a bookshop where the prestigious client Swan Tamel (László Sinkó in his last role) asks for a rare work.
Once inside the section that houses such tomes, it’s discovered that all the books are gone and have been replaced by countless copies of a book called 1. A book that seems to have neither an author nor a publisher and seemingly describes what happens to humanity during one minute. An investigation is instigated by the Reality Defense Institute, led by Phil Pitch (Zoltán Mucsi). The case is as much epistemological as anything else. The book seems to have a devastating effect on anyone who reads it, and when Swamel throws a copy outside the shop, the ramifications might be immeasurable. This is a pat attempt to describe what occurs in this fascinating creation.
It is a work whose scope is virtually impossible to define, being everything and nothing simultaneously. Encyclopedic in the manner of Lem or Borges, but at the same time a sensual experience that defies any dry description. It’s a literal and virtual maze which is also echoed in the eclectic cinematic style. The cinematography by Máté Tóth Widamon is constantly brilliant and surprising, aided by the superb production design by the director, Fruzsina Lányi and Judith Varga. Considering that the film is assembled from several kinds of footage, the editing seems like an impossible task. In Wanda Kiss’ hands, the result is nothing short of astounding.
Are you Aware of the Existence of Pater Sparrow’s Film?
Apart from Lem, another important source for the film was the late Hungarian philosopher Béla Hamvas. He is credited as providing “additional material”, and I’m not going to disclose exactly what that implies. It’s not primarily an actor’s film, but everyone is strong in their respective roles, with the heaviest burden falling on Mucsi and Sinko. It’s a work that defies description. A bit like early Greenaway, but more Sci-fi or like Tenet, without the ample dialogue being constantly expository. Mind-bending and seductive in equal measure, I can’t recommend this film enough.
This is Pater Sparrow’s only feature to date. Since the film was made, he has continued working with production design, for instance, in films like The Duke of Burgundy (2014), Budapest Noir (2017) and Eld & Lågor (2019). I was lucky enough to see the film in a cinema recently. For those that are not that fortunate, the film is available on YouTube with English subtitles. Every frame is worth watching and rewatching.