10th Belfast Film Festival review
Based on an essay by the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem (“One Human Minute”) Pater Sparrow’s absorbing and visually striking 1 has a fascinating and ambitious question at its heart about just how limited is our comprehension of the world we live in. To illustrate the point, towards the beginning of the film the narrator of 1 asks the viewer to consider a fifteen-minutes news summary of the world’s events on any one particular day and consider how much it really tells us about the individual experience of the billions of people across the world. Imagine however if the experience of everyone in the world could be written down in a manner that captured the totality of the human experience, even if it was just one single minute of one day. Would the vast scope of what is contained in such a book open our minds to the wonder and miracle of life or would this knowledge drive us mad?
That is the situation faced by the staff of a prestigious bookshop dealing in rare books when, just as they are closing the shop a mysterious visitor Swan Tamel (László Sinkó) arrives and asks to see a rare book that is held in their store-room. When the owner Al F. Eveson (Pál Mácsai) takes him to the basement story however, he discovers that the shop’s entire stock has vanished and been replaced by multiple copies of one single book called “1”. The incident is strange enough to attract the attention of the Reality Defence Institute, a special force headed up by Chief Investigator Phil Pitch (Zoltán Mucsi), whose job it is to investigate, examine and contain such events from spreading further. The police are quickly on the scene, quarantining the place, hauling the three members of the bookshop’s staff and the customer from the Vatican away for tests, but an announcement of the book’s “launch” has already been announced to the press by an unknown agency, and a single copy of the book has been leaked to the general public.
It’s hard not to see any such science-fiction film or story derived from a former Eastern Bloc country as a commentary on the repression and government control, keeping the truth from the people out of fear for the impact of ideas and influences that challenge the ideological view of the world presented by the state through very careful control of the media. The treatment of the four people in the bookshop who have been exposed to dangerous thoughts and knowledge that have not been sanctioned by the authorities, questioned and subjected to vigorous tests that pushes them to the edge of their sanity, would seem to enforce this viewpoint. As the bookshop staff are examined and monitored for their reaction to reading what is contained in the book “1”, a book that contains the whole experience of humanity over the course of one single minute, the there is however a sense of there being a much larger question being asked about the nature of truth and reality as it is perceived by the individual and the collective.
Originating from a story by Stanislaw Lem, it’s not a coincidence then that certain elements of 1 resemble Tarkovsky’s famous film adaptation of Solaris with some measure of Stalker as well, not just in Pater Sparrow’s film being rather complex and difficult to follow, but also in the way that the science-fiction genre is used to push past a restricted or inhibited perception of the world to look at the larger picture and consider the place of man within it. There’s a narrator here as guide to present some of the larger concepts put forth by the book in some kind of comprehensible manner, while the director resorts to stock-footage montage in the manner of Jonathan Weiss’s film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, a film that 1 also resembles conceptually, investigators trying to get to the truth of the totality of the human experience much in the way that Ballard’s scientists performed an autopsy on the remains of the latter half of the twentieth century. As with the The Atrocity Exhibition however, how meaningful you find 1 may depend more on your level of sanity than your intellect, but there are intriguing questions raised that are worth pondering, and the film itself looks simply stunning.