Feb 18, 2013

Enthusiasts Archives: Obcy (comments by Austin Kim)

Obcy (Stranger). 1967.
Obcy (Stranger) is a 1967 silent surrealist film by Jaruzal Jan for the AKF Bielsko club.  The film is a seven minute meditation on alienation, conformity, and desire, and how those elements feed and bleed into one another.  The opening shot is that of the protagonist at a witness stand.  Standing alone in a cheap suit, he looks up at his judge/accuser expectantly and rests his hands on the bench.  A quick close up of his clenched hands with the title superimposed over them is followed by an exterior shot of the protagonist being tossed out of a massive pair of doors.  The slightest glimpse of a hand is seen as it throws out a leather jacket after him.  Picking himself up, he trades his cheap suit for the leather jacket and wanders into the street.  He wanders through deserted alleys and abandoned boulevards for some time, stopping occasionally to rest or to investigate for signs of life.  Eventually, he sees in the distance the silhouette of a man in hat and coat framed by the blackened walls of a culvert.  The protagonist chases the man through the abandoned streets until he finally catches up, but when he grabs the man's shoulder it is revealed that the man is nothing but a mannequin.  The protagonist flees in alarm.  As he makes his escape, he sees that more and more of the mannequins are appearing; soon he finds himself trapped in a corner.  The mannequins, each one with a military medal tattooed on its plastic chest, surround the protagonist.  There is no escape; he hangs himself.  The film ends as it began, with the protagonist back on the witness stand, looking expectantly upwards.
            Obcy is a sophisticated work; the dreamlike formal quality of the shots, the absence of any human presence besides the protagonist, and the unstoppable encroachment of the mannequins firmly places the film within surrealist subconscious territory, while simultaneously allowing for an expressly political reading within the Soviet context as well as, perhaps more importantly, a universal reading.  The individual, indicted by faceless society a priori, exists alone.  He must content himself with aimless wandering.  When he grows tired of his isolation and finally tries to reach out, he is punished, and the hope he has for reconciliation turns into abject fear as he is crushed by a tide of unfeeling bodies in a cruel inversion of the inclusion that he yearned for.  The last shot, the same as the first, elevates Obcy to the level of Greek tragedy—because of his crime of passion the protagonist is doomed to ceaselessly repeat his suffering, just as Prometheus was bound forever to the rock for his crime of knowledge. 
            The presentation of the film on the Internet Archive actually benefits the work, I would argue.  While Obcy viewed on a film print would probably remain legible as a political statement—the State oppresses the Individual—The degraded quality of the image as it is viewed online, its silence (both literal and figurative—the archival entry offers no description, if one were to encounter the film without the benefit of the Enthusiast Archive's link one might be hard-pressed to find any background for it whatsoever), and its anonymity combine to create a critical distance that might otherwise be absent if one were to only look at the film within its historical context.  Viewed in this way, the work is ultimately free to take on the aspect of visual allegory.  

Austin Kim

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.