8/10 (Very Good)
Piotr Kamler’s SF film Chronopolis (1982) is a hypnotic exercise in sinister science whose imagery is lifted from an archaic stone vault (1). Against an unsettling patina of musique concrète composed by Luc Ferrari, we are plunged into a far future existence where immortal beings ensconced in a celestial city perform apathetic conjurations of matter. An external force, explorers climbing the pillars (?) that hold up the city, presage a deliverance from the languor that afflicts all.
Science as Ritual, Scientist as Priest
Imagine you were ignorant of the process of cell division. You are led into a room where two screens project the chromosomal movements: interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase, cytokinesis, interphase, ad infinitum. Scientists in lab coats move in a synchronized dance: from lab table to lab table, microscope to microscope…. The screens focus on mitotic spindles. Enzymes cleave the cohesin rings. Time slows. The movements grow otherworldly, the process exterior to daily existence. In Chronopolis the hieratic denizens perform science as a ritual to hold off inexistence. The science itself appears primal, a knowledge forever know, but abstracted as mesmeric movement.
Etched in Stone, Pressed in Clay
“There is insufficient evidence for the non-existence of the city of Chronopolis” (2).
The city, formed as if from astronomical telescopes and astrolabes, takes on the appearance of an ancient mausoleum wall, the figures chiseled yet animate, accessible though a causeways of gates. Kamler deliberately evokes the feel of Egyptian hieroglyphics without direct references. Or the pressing of a Phoenician seal into wet clay. The effect is timeless. The city has always been. The incantations that fill the sacred space continue. The musique concrète, the manipulation of found sounds, further enhances its timeless qualities.
Unfortunately, this is Kamler’s only feature-length film (3). He produced a handful of shorts that I’m eager to track down. With a more regular and extensive output he might have been classed up there with The Brothers Quay or Jan Švankmajer (Joachim Boaz favorites) in the field of experimental animation.
Highly recommended for fans of avant-garde cinema. Like an animate Remedios Varo painting, this is an immersive experience with only fragments of plot.
Go watch it! (4)
1) Two different versions of the film exist. The original version clocked in at 66 min and featured narration by Michael Londsdale and a different ending. I watched the rereleased 52-minute 1988 version.
2) The French text that introduces the film: “Il n’y a pas de preuves suffisantes de la non-existence de la ville de Chronopolis. Au contraire, les rêves et les manuscrits s’accordent à révéler que l’histoire de la cité est une histoire d’éternité et de désir. Ses habitantes, hiératiques et impassibles ont pour seule occupation et pour seul plaisir de composer le temps. Malgré la monotonie de l’immortalité, ils vivent dans l’attente: un événement important doit survenir lors de la rencontre d’un instant particulier et d’un être humain. Or, cet instant attendu se pépare…”
3) See the Wikipedia entry for more information on the production of the film.
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