Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fantaspoa ’18: The Man with the Magic Box

The level of technology is different, but 1952 Stalinist Poland and its dystopian future circa 2030 do not look that much different from each other. There is rationing in both time periods: water in the future and everything else in the past. Yet, there is a good reason Adam is so keenly interested in the somewhat Orwellian future. Her name is Goria. Much to her own surprise, they will be a secret item in Bodo Kox’s The Man with the Magic Box (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Fantaspoa in Brazil.

Without explanation, Adam finds himself in the future. The opening prologue suggests it will not go well, but there seem to be several helpful people around, who are willing to help him get acclimated. They even arrange a janitorial job for him at an imposing office tower. It is there that he meets Goria. Obviously, she is important, because she has her own office, not that there are any privacy benefits to it. The future is very Bloomberg Media, with open work-stations, glass walls, and translucent computer monitors.

They immediately catch each other’s eye, but she blows him off hard. Yet, he keeps plugging away, which she loves. Soon, a spontaneous hook-up during a terrorist attack morphs into something potentially more serious and long-term. That would suit Adam, but his footing in this world is tenuous as best. He seems to have a connection to the past, which he sees in visions and hears through phantom broadcasts he picks up with a vintage console radio (one of those wirelesses, with wires). He also starts to attract the unwanted attention of the secret police.

Arguably, Magic Box is like a cross between Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Somewhere in Time. It does not offer a very elaborate vision of the future, but it feels more real and fully realized than the recent remake of Fahrenheit 451. True, the narrative stepping stones do not always fit together with perfect logic, but the central relationship is consistently intriguing and redemptive. Honestly, the star-crossed but deeply passionate romance that develops between the caustic Goria and the socially awkward Adam would still hold viewer interest in a contemporary non-genre movie.

Olga Boladz is simply amazing as Goria. She is not exactly a plastic-looking model-type, but wow, can she make an entrance. Even in subtitles, her acid-tongued line deliveries are wickedly droll. Piotr Polak’s Adam is her polar opposite, but it is the sort of deceptively quiet, deeply sincere performance that sneaks up on viewers. Sebastian Stanki Stankiewicz also pulls off some surprises as Adam’s broom-pushing colleague Bernard, who initially just seems like weird comic relief, but holds some significant secrets.

Like a magpie, Kox borrows elements from films across the genre spectrum, notably including Brazil, Men in Black, and no kidding, Being John Malkovich. Yet, the linkage between Poland’s Communist past and feared dystopian future give them all significance and purpose. Kox also them together in interesting ways (unlike certain post-apocalyptic movies we could mention) and never lets anything interrupt the chemistry of his leads. Very highly recommended (in spite of and maybe in appreciation of its baffling loose ends), The Man with the Magic Box screens tomorrow (5/23) during this year’s Fantaspoa.