Saturday, April 06, 2024

CIFF ’24: White Plastic Sky

The residennts of 2123 Budapest survive thanks to what you might consider vegan Soylent Green. It is grown from trees, but it is still made of people. At least they get twenty more years than the 30-year-olds in Logan’s Run before they must surrender to Dr. Janos Paulik’s revolutionary hybrid-agricultural process. As a psychologist, Stefan Kovacs regularly attends to grieving patients, who resent losing loved ones during the prime of their lives. However, he cannot console himself when his wife Nora Kallay voluntarily sacrifices herself at the premature age of thirty-two. Despite the risks to his career and the social order, Kovacs intends to reverse the process and save his wife in Tibor Banoczki & Sarolta Szabo’s White Plastic Sky, which screens during the 2024 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Fertility is low in the future, so when Kallay and Kovacs lost their young son, it was a devastating blow that she never recovered from. He knew she was hurting, but he never thought she would volunteer. Since he is four years her junior, he should have plenty of time to start over, but instead, he hatches a rescue plan (even though she probably does not want to be rescued).

With information provided by his brother Mark, who was once a security officer in the human “plantation” outside the domed city of Budapest, Kovacs acquires forged work orders to perform psych evaluations of the staff. He suspects the somewhat rebellious Dr. Madu (who happens to be pushing fifty) will be willing to help and he assumes she can perform the reversal operation. Unfortunately, he is only half right. The plantation lacks adequate facilities for an operation, but her old mentor, Paulik, could perform the reversal in his secret research facility in the Slovakian mountainside.

White Plastic Sky
is the best looking post-apocalyptic film in decades. It might not have much competition, but it is, nonetheless. The domed urban centers, ruined cities, and Paulik’s Bond-villain-worthy eagle’s nest installation represent some of the best science fiction art-for-film since Chesley Bonestell’s heyday. The rotoscoped figure-animation is also quite effective. Banoczki & Szabo’s narrative is not exactly unprecedented, but they instill it with a fable-like vibe that is quite arresting.

WPS makes all the galaxy-brain talk about harvesting bugs for food sound marginally more appetizing. More concretely, it is a timely response to half-thought-out pandemic policies we lived through and the perverse anti-humanist fear-mongering over so-called over-population. For Heaven’s sake, read some Julian Simon people.

Regardless, Banoczki & Szabo accomplish some incredible world-building. The mixture of animation techniques ranks it just below films like
The Peasants, Loving Vincent, and Alois Nebel, in its shrewd and visually striking incorporation of rotoscoped cast-members. It is serious, thoughtful, emotionally resonant science fiction, but it also evokes nostalgia for Logan’s Run and other classic sf films. Highly recommended, White Plastic Sky screens again this Monday (4/8) during this year’s CIFF.