There are some films that have entered the legend and become cult even though they were never completed. One of these examples is certainly “Dune” by Alejandro Jodorowsky or Kubrick’s “Napoleon”, and “On the Silver Globe” by the Polish avant-garde filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski almost suffered a similar fate. If it had been finished when it was supposed to, “On the Silver Globe” would have appeared before Lucas’ “Star Wars”, it would have been the first European science fiction spectacle and probably my father’s life would have been different, says Xavery, son of Andrej Zulawski. However, instead of the mid-seventies, this Polish film was completed only at the end of the eighties, and Kuba Mikurda’s documentary tells the story of the creation of this iconic film.
And it is not even close to a typical biographical documentary about Zulawski, although the author introduces us to the character and work of his famous compatriot, which is also a kind of introduction to the key part, i.e. the production of that spectacular and never finished film. We thus learn that Zulawski was an incredible phenomenon in Polish cinema as soon as he appeared there in the late sixties after finishing his studies in Paris, where he lived until then. How it was there that he encountered Polish film and the work of Andrzej Wajda, whom he wanted to be an assistant to, and after that he started filming in Poland himself. But after the first two films, he already had to leave Poland because his horror film “Diabel” stirred up communist spirits quite a bit.
However, a few years later they invited him to return and promised him whatever he wanted to shoot a new film in Poland. He decided to adapt his uncle Jerzy Zulawski’s SF novel from the beginning of the 20th century, and the shooting of his most ambitious film up to that time began. Mikurda’s film brilliantly brings the context of the time and shows us how the seventies were a period when the communist government in Poland wanted to gain influence in the world through film. And not only did she want, but she also came, and Polish cinematography flourished then. Grandiose historical spectacles were filmed, no money was spared for the productions even though people lived modestly and barely made ends meet.
Filmmaking seemed to be an escape from reality in the country, so Zulawski got a free hand and threw himself into filming. And it was a grueling shoot that would last more than a year, enough to change the social climate in Poland. And the leaders of the film association, as well as the country completely sinking into a crisis and experiencing an economic collapse, which will soon lead to the sudden stop of filming the film that Zulawski considered his life’s work. Just as Jodorowsky was never really able to come to terms with and recover from the fact that his grandiose spectacle “Dune” would never be filmed, the same happened to Zulawski.
With the difference that ten years later he still got the chance to complete his film, but it couldn’t be close to what that visionary had imagined in the beginning. Not only was the filming once interrupted, but a good part of the original filmstrips were destroyed, so Zulawski’s film had to somehow make up and unfortunately it was not the way he imagined it. Brilliantly, this documentary shows not only how this bureaucratic decision, which was also an obvious humiliation for Zulawski, destroyed his dreams and drove him out of the country again, but also what a blow it was to his ego. We also have a lot of archival conversations with Zulawski, who talks about his thoughts, visions and notes that directing is one of the most selfish professions. This documentary therefore offers a great insight into the psyche of a great author, but also perfectly shows what the collision of two completely different worlds looks like. A world of film where everything is possible and a rigid, bureaucratic authoritarian regime that is always last and stifles freedom.