[1 was screened as part of the Lincoln Film Society's recent contemporary Hungarian cinema program.
More interesting than enjoyable, but at times more frustrating than interesting, Pater Sparrow's adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's One Human Minute is packed to the gills with ideas, but fails to develop any of them in a satisfying manner.
The story is simple. The entire inventory of a rare bookshop is mysteriously replaced with a statistical tome documenting sixty seconds worth of life on earth. Is it a publicity stunt? An act of terrorism? The Reality Defense Institute wants to know, so the bookshop staff and the philosophy spouting guru who happened to be in the store at the time are carted off for psychological testing. With the minimum of exposition out of the way, Sparrow is free to explore a myriad of tangential ideas with less focus than a stoned philosophy major.
Which isn't even the biggest problem with the film. At times Sparrow achieves a somber rumination reminiscent of Tarkovsky's take on Lem, but those moments are fleeting at best, and at odds with the overall tone of the film. The world Sparrow creates is not a naturalistic one, but a stylized reality populated by caricatures and oddballs. Usually when watching a film in a foreign language, it is hard to tell when performances are off. Unfortunately with 1, that wasn't the case. Granted, the tough talking Freddie Mercury doppelganger cops were probably a directorial choice, but that doesn't mean they work.
That is not to say Sparrow is an untalented director. Visually, there is much to appreciate. From the montages of stock footage to the desaturated color palette, the film is a pleasure to look at. The cinematography is impressive, employing a number of unique shots throughout the film without being overly distracting. This is accompanied by a mixture of ambient score and sound design that perfectly compliment the film. But aesthetics aside, this is a case of style over substance. Or more appropriately, style over the illusion of substance. I hesitate to use the dreaded P word, but I might have to make an exception. I mean, what the hell is the deal with the pears?
So few films like this get made, and it is a shame when one doesn't hit the mark. But esoteric or otherwise, a film needs a cohesive center. 1 feels more like a hodgepodge of ideas fighting for dominance. In the end, the film has to resort to telling us what it was about, which defeats the whole purpose. If you are going to leave interpretation open to the viewer, that's fine, but don't play with our heads for ninety minutes and then tell us what to think.
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