Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One Way Ticket to the Moon (orig. Bilet na Księżyc) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Filmweb.pl listing*

Dziennik.pl [P. Czerkawski] review*
Film.onet.pl (D. Romanowska) review*
Film.org.pl (K. Połaski) review*
Film.wp.pl (K. Kasperska) review*
KulisyKultury.pl (K. Łukaszewicz) review*

Hollywood Reporter [N. Young] review

It's 1969 and the "Summer of Love" in One Way Ticket to the Moon (orig. Bilet na Księżyc) [2013] [IMDb] [FW.pl]* (written and directed by Jacek Bromski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) in this often hilarious and inevitably poignant/sad take on Poland's "Summer of '69," seeking to apply a couple of America's counter-cultural classics, Hair [wikip-1968-stagemusical] [wikip-1979 film] [IMDb] and Easy Rider [1969] [IMDb], to Polish Communist-era realities of the time. (The film played recently at the 26th Annual (2014) Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago).

And indeed much is "going on."  The Communist Regime has the whole, then NOTORIOUSLY DULL GRAY COUNTRY all decked out in the ALMOST IMPOSSIBLY CHEERFUL "RED AND WHITE" of Poland's national colors, earnestly trying to "generate excitement" about celebrating the upcoming "25th Anniversary of the Founding of the Polish People's Republic," even as every one of its news items on State (Controlled) radio seems to undermine the earnest, studied, faux/forced optimistic Party Line: Early in the film, we hear "State Radio" LEADING its "morning news" with an item announcing that the "Minister of Agriculture" had visited a "cord factory" and "proudly proclaimed" that "there will certainly be enough rope to bind this year's harvest."   Ring the bells folks!  The Party assures us that at least this _ridiculously_ basic need is something that we don't have to worry about (or should we actually?  Why would something so absurdly basic be mentioned on the news at all...?)

Indeed, the Regime faces a real challenge in 'generating excitement' about "25 years of drabness and disappointment" -- Everyone in the story is painfully aware of Poland's painfully embarrassing bad economic story.   "Okay, we lag behind the East Germans, that's 'no surprise,' but why is it that even the Czechoslovaks and the Hungarians are beating our ...?" asks one of character.  Another responds, "Well you know, we Poles have become a nation of schemers.  An East German foreman tells one of his East German workers to come over and tighten a screw.  And he does, come over, and ... tightens the screw.  A Polish foreman tells one of his Polish workers to come over and tighten a screw.  And he comes over and spends a half an hour looking-over the screw, from all angles, scheming to find a way to appear to tighten it without actually doing so.  So EVERYTHING takes a long time, and ... at the end of the day, NOTHING gets done anyway."  (Readers note simply here that this Communist Era Polish reputation for "scheming" was HONESTLY, AN ARTIFACT OF THAT UNNATURAL TIME.  Poland was NOT free but rather a captive "satellite" of the Soviet Union.  In contrast, outside of Poland, both here in the United States and across all of Western Europe, Poles have had a near UNIVERSAL REPUTATION of both HARD WORK and PRIDE IN THAT WORK.  It's honestly hard to imagine the Catholic Church in the United States without the legacy of the extreme generosity of both Polish labor and Polish money, often contributed first by _dirt poor_ immigrants and later by their descendants).

But beyond that, the Regime's Party spin doctors have another problem on their hands:  The whole world, including Poland, seems to be focused on the seminal event about to occur ... America's soon to be launched Apollo 11 and its promised landing on the moon.  The Regime is stuck trying to explain(away) why it's the Americans who are going to be walking on the moon first, and not the Regime's Soviet Communist "big brothers."  Play on that summer's primary focus -- the Apollo ii moon landing -- inspires, of course, this film's title.

But all these "grand" concerns aside -- the upcoming celebration of  Communist Poland's "25 years of mediocrity and failure" or the Apollo moon landings -- 1969 was the summer in which the film's central protagonist Adam Sikora (played by Filip Pławiak [IMDb] [FW.pl]*), having graduated that spring from high school, was ... drafted into the military.

And so the film begins with Adam, having finished his early morning milk deliveries rushing off to the local draft board, where, in its "infinite wisdom" it assigns him, who's lived all his life in a little hamlet in the mountains of the southeastern Poland ... TO THE NAVY and to report "two weeks hence" to a Polish naval base in the northwestern (Baltic Coast) corner of the country.

How long's the assignment? ... three years.  Well that's gonna ... SUCK, given that he has his first, sort-of, girlfriend, Danusia (played with perfectly-calibrated 15-to-16-year-old earnestness by Kaja Walden [IMBb] [FW.pl]*) in his home village, in said SOUTH EASTERN CORNER OF THE COUNTRY.  So he goes over to the shop where she's working that summer to break the news.  He then asks her: "Will you wait for me?"  In perfectly calibrated SHOCK of a 15-to-16-year-old BEING ASKED THIS QUESTION FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, she answers: "NO!"  Crestfallen, 18-year-old Adam asks "Why?"  "I'm 15-going-on-16 years old, I can't even imagine THREE YEARS FROM NOW." And so it is, shell-shocked Adam realizes that he's probably being dumped for the very first time...

Adam's lack-of-experience / naivete comes to concern his older, thinking of himself as "more worldly" brother Antoni (played again wonderfully by Mateusz Kościukiewicz [IMDb] [FW.pl]*), 22 or 23, who had just finished his three year term of service in the Polish Navy (Apparently, in its infinite wisdom, the Polish People's Army had determined that the nation's "best mariners" come from the mountains of the South Eastern part of the country ;-).  So Antoni decides to accompany his younger brother to his induction in the Polish Navy, hoping to "impart his wisdom" (all the "wisdom" of a 22 or 23 year old...) on his younger brother along the way.

Thus begins an "epic" Easy Rider [1969] [IMDb]-like "road trip" from the mountains of Southeastern Poland to the Poland's Northwestern Baltic coast ... 'CEPT ... THIS IS POLAND OF 1969: Neither Antoni nor Adam have "motor-bikes" to say nothing of a car.  This "road trip" was going to take place "the Soviet-era Socialist way" ... by train, bus and occasionally hitchhiking a ride from a farmer pulling a hay-covered cart with a tractor ;-)

But let's also admit here that no matter where one is, WHEN ONE IS YOUNG, ANY TRIP LIKE THIS ... is going to be EPIC (!)  And so it is ... ;-)

The people that the two meet along the way (and their conversations with them) in this meandering trip that actually takes them longer than Apollo 11's trip to the moon (though in fairness, they did make stops along the way) are ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS.  These include: (1) their encounter/conversation with two young girls their age (coming home from a 3 month training course in "food service") that they meet on the train to Krakow; (2) a barbeque with an "old" (again 22-24 years old ...) "former Navy buddy" of Antoni's now living in the (still) southern mining town of Katowice; and (3) a priceless conversation with a thoroughly corrupt "little man" of a conductor on a "night train" to the coast (this last encounter being certainly a play-on, indeed a "send-up of" the famous Communist-era film Night Train (orig. Pociąg) [1959] that played recently again in the United States as part of the American director Martin Scrocese's Masterpieces of Polish Cinema: [MSP Website] [Culture.pl] series).

The "little man" pettily corrupt conductor tells Antoni who to talk-to / look-up to get themselves "set-up" (with both a hotel and some Communist Era hookers) when they "get to the coast."  (Again folks, think Easy Rider [1969] [IMDb]).

And let's admit it, what kind of "wisdom" would a 22-year-old "older brother" have to impart on his "more naive" younger brother, other than, well, trying to "get him laid..."?  After an aborted "first attempt," Adam, on his own, manages "to score" with an amiable, a few years older, Polish exotic dancer named Halina/Roxana (played by Anna Przybylska [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) IN A SCENE THAT HONESTLY IS VERY, VERY FUNNY: There's Adam, losing his virginity, even as we hear Neil Armstrong on the TV, stepping down from his craft and announcing TO THE WHOLE WORLD: "One small step for (a) man ...." ;-)

Yet if all this SEEMS INCREDIBLY STUPID, ADOLESCENT, SOPHOMORIC, indeed HAIR [wikip-1968-stagemusical] [wikip-1979 film] [IMDb]-like in nature, JUST LIKE IN THE SUDDEN CLOSING SEQUENCE of the FILM VERSION OF HAIR [1979], the current film TAKES A SUDDEN and far more serious turn:

Adam's lying there in Halina's bed, basking in the "momentous glory" of "having gone where..." even as Neil Armstrong was first stepping onto the moon, when a drunk local police officer comes "visiting upon" Halina as well.

Adam steps-up to defend Halina's honor, and since the police officer was piss-drunk, even disarms him.  The drunk local police officer lifts up his hands, and even laughs: "Okay boy, easy, even keep the gun...  But know that tomorrow, I'm coming back for you WITH THE WHOLE LOCAL POLICE FORCE and you're a dead man."

Again, if up to this point the movie, LIKE most of the 1960s era HAIR [wikip-1968-stagemusical] [wikip-1979 film] [IMDb] was above all, just a STUPID SOPHOMORIC ROMP, SUDDENLY ADAM really _has to_ "grow up."   Indeed, he has to flee.  BUT TO WHERE???  HOW???

He does find a solution, the closing credits suggest that the story presented was actually based on a true one. Well, yes, and no.  There were Cold War cases in which Poles (as well as other Central/East Europeans from the Soviet Satellite countries) took similarly drastic measures to get across to the West.  However, the closing credits identifies Adam Sikora as the Polish born father of the German footballer "on the national team" Feliks (or Felix) Sikora.  And this is, as far as I can see, (Google, Wikipedia), this is not true.  But then let's also remember that Milos Forman's film version of Hair [wikip-1968-stagemusical] [wikip-1979 film] [IMDb] ended in a super poignant if grossly manipulative fiction as well.

What then to make of the film?  I did like it.

I had contact with and indeed visited my relatives in Communist era Czechoslovakia throughout the 1970s and 80s.  The first time I heard Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was on my oldest cousin's stereo in Prague.  He had found a way to buy the record, black iconic "prism cover" and all, on his own over there.  On the flip-side my parents, sister and I, enjoyed the summer of the "Prague Spring" (1968) largely on the beach in Union Pier outside of Chicago largely listening to lovely Czech language covers of the Beatles, Mamas and Papas, etc.  The film version of Milan Kindera's Unbearable Lightness of Being [1988] features (a little anachronistically) Marta Kubišová's Czech language cover of Hey Jude.

So to those who would complain that this film "can not possibly portray a realistic vision of Poland in 1969," having pictures of bell-bottom jeans wearing (admittedly Czech) cousins of mine from the same time, I beg to disagree. 

Then those who'd on the other hand argue that the film unfairly lampoons Communist Era news programming, my sister, various American born cousins of mine and I (all still Czech speaking) can "rolls our eyes" almost completely around in our eye-sockets thanks to the UNBELIEVABLE STUPIDITY OF WHAT PASSED AS NEWS REPORTING COMMUNIST LANDS DURING THAT ERA.   The segment in this film about the "Agricultural Minister visiting the cord factory" (mentioned above) is ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS.  'Cause that's EXACTLY (!) how it was.

I do wish that the director did not play with the truth as much as he did at the end of the film.  But even attempts like Adam's to get across to the West were part of the historical record of the time.  There were desperate people who did have to flee places like Poland during that era.  And how could one do that, again FROM POLAND, when one was SURROUNDED by "Fraternal Brother" States?

Anyway, this film is NEITHER Citizen Kane [1941] nor Ashes and Diamonds [1958].   But it does kinda play like a Polish Easy Rider [1969] or [Hair [1979].

And so in that sense, it did a "pretty good job!"  So "rock on" director Jacek Bromski [IMDb] [FW.pl], "rock on" ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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