The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD/VOD) - THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC BOX | The Movie Waffler


the man with the magic box review
In a dystopian future Warsaw, a janitor begins to piece together his previous life.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Bodo Kox

Starring: Olga Boladz, Piotr Polak, Sebastian Stankiewicz, Helena Norowicz

the man with the magic box review

For any connoisseur of fringe cinema, the words ‘Polish Science-Fiction’ will have an exciting, psychotronic allure. Existing within a state controlled socialist regime until relatively recently, only since the concerted efforts of the early '90s to convert the Rzeczpospolita Polska to a viable market economy has the film industry gained global traction. In terms of genre, the cinema lacked; Poland has never had an iconic horror film, for example (or indeed, much horror at all). Frankly, they had more important things to be thinking about, with a regime that outlawed any implied criticism of the government and a manufacturing sector which relied on second hand equipment and even film itself (the scarcity of film stock meant that film lengths were dictated by the amount of film available, a provisional environment which honed the skills of Polanski, Kieślowski, et al). In Bodo Kox’s The Man with the Magic Box the narrative straddles, much like Polish cinema itself, two historical eras: the Stalinist '50s and a future 2030, which is Orwellian in the literal sense, i.e., the influence of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' is direct, with not only nameless bods putting the fear on the workers with intimations of perpetual war, but our very own Winston Smith in the form of Adam (Piotr Polak), an everyman worker who wakes up in the clinical future with no memory and a limited understanding of this odważny new world.

the man with the magic box review

Luckily, with the help of an oddball pal, Adam happens upon a radio, which allows him (in a similarly random fashion to near-forgotten British sit-com Goodnight Sweetheart) access to the 1950s. Is the use of media-commodity-as-medium telling? The idea that we are either controlled or possibly liberated by art which serves as a connection to something larger - I would imagine that a radio was used for both during the People’s Republic era. Either way, finding his feet in the future, Adam moves from one magic box to another, as he embarks upon a steamy affair with office boss Goria (Olga Boladz - an even more European looking Noomi Rapace).

the man with the magic box review

At the centre of all time-travel films, with their playful narrative ingenuity and visually significant artifice, is real human emotion: in Just Imagine the future is defined by lack of physical interaction, La Jetée is one of the most moving films ever made, and even Marty McFly just wanted to enchant his parents under the sea. Accordingly, and understandably, Adam falls in love with the pulchritudinous Goria which leads to a will he won’t he return to 1950s style conflict. Watching it, I get the relationship from Adam’s side, but not so much from Goria’s: what on earth does this striking woman see in this gormless caretaker? It must be something because when bombs go off in the city, demolishing the towering office blocks down the road to them, Goria and Adam have an impromptu bunk up against a pillar in the office and then the frame recreates that bit from Fight Club where The Pixies play in the background.

The reference is so obvious as to be clanging, and it’s a purely referential choice which reveals the problems with The Man with the Magic Box: despite the bravura recreation of the Polish past, there isn’t actually all that much beneath the, admittedly intriguing and uncomfortably claustrophobic, style of the film. The lack of chemistry between Boladz and Polak is compounded by a sweaty sex scene where both actors seem to be working a bit too hard (call me old fashioned, but I don’t see that a film should show us a performer’s tits in order to convince us of mutual attraction), and, despite the ostensible significance of the film’s conflicting milieus, there doesn’t seem to be any constructive observations about Poland’s cultural history, either.

the man with the magic box review

That said, there is much to enjoy here, from the special effects borrowed from Davison era Doctor Who to the ace Boladz. Towards the end it gets a bit Life on Mars (and, perhaps, offers a cop out ending which breaches the cardinal rule of all GCSE creative writing classes…) but in and of itself, the cinematic exoticism promised by the words Polish Science Fiction is fulfilled by the sincerely strange The Man with the Magic Box.

The Man with the Magic Box is on DVD/VOD April 4th.

2019 movie reviews