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Chronopolis has awed me more than most any animated production I have
ever seen. There is currently little information available about this
and Piotr Kamler's other films. There have been showings at several
festivals and events, but Kamler's work is quite difficult to find. A
small company in Boston had released Chronopolis on VHS for a short
while in the late 1980's or so, and I was fortunate enough to get to
see a decent transfer of it.
Chronopolis was a French-Polish co-production with a story by Kamler and music from Luc Ferrari of the INA/GRM electroacoustic studios. The story is fascinating, and the style in which it is told remarkable. There is no dialog to explain what happens, just some brief opening narration to set the scene (I missed this, as I know little French). There is an obsessed mountain climber. And elsewhere, a city with enigmatic inhabitants who control matter. The apparently omniscient Chronopolitans are able to see this mountain climber in his world, deciding to contact him to reveal their hidden existence. To do so, they manipulate basic matter though a sort of alchemy, culminating in an intelligent sphere which departs to meet the man. The interactions between the sphere and the man are mostly jovial, but trying to meet the inhabitants of Chronopolis themselves is not so simple.
The story is indeed told entirely through pictures and music. This is much a process of sharing the discoveries of the characters with them, and so does require some patience. The film might appear to move slowly to a person hoping for dialog or a more conventional film narrative, but I expect that those who can appreciate the attention to detail here will relish it. Most movies which use 3D animation use it in a more cartoonish, "claymation" effect, whereas the sculpture here tends towards a less exaggerated appearance. In many ways, the city of Chronopolis is the main character itself. How the place is depicted is a fine balance between organic fluidity and grown technology, with the larger than life grandeur of an abandoned city from a lost Earth civilization, such as those from Egypt and Central America. The Chronopolitans may appear to be a refined culture, with vast knowledge and abilities, but is their contact ultimately nothing more than a time capsule from a dead (or closed) culture? Or is this perhaps a land of mythology, with different characteristics and rules than ordinary life, where they are in a unique position to comment on our world?
The amount of thought and effort which must have gone into this production is astonishing. The locations and characters are mostly realized in clay, or some other kind of 3D sculpture, augmented by some occasional illustrated details. Luc Ferrari's soundtrack is tasteful, the relatively subdued nature suiting the quiet locations and introspective tone of many scenes. The sound palette ranges from what sounds like treated minimal piano, to rhythmic concrete noises.
Seeing Chronopolis makes me wonder why Kamler's animation is not more readily available for viewing, I would really love to see some of his other work. Not easy to track down, but if you are in the mood to see some thoughtful animation which is a bit different than those from, for instance, Svankmajer and Quay; then perhaps you should try to find Chronopolis.
EDIT: It appears that the print I saw was the original, longer version. Kamler doesn't allow this version to be shown any longer, preferring instead a shorter version edited for less repetition. I prefer the longer version. As other reviewers have noted, this is not a spoon-fed story. It is hypnotic and repetitive, which affords it a rhythm which is more like music than narrative film. And it is definitely not, in my opinion, a children's movie! Unless your children are patient and have a taste for the esoteric.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some movies can't be described in words. But some movies don't need
words either. Piotr Kamler's short fantasy is one such movie. Using
some of the most beautiful animation ever, he crafts a silent movie
about a race of bored gigantic immortals entertained with manipulating
their complex machines in a timeless city, until a man climbing the
walls of their immense city captures their attention. These are the
bare bones of the Chronopolis, but words really fail to explain
anything in this cryptic movie.
Chronopolis shows some of the strongest European animation I've ever seen, as intricate as anything Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, or Jan Trnka could come up with. Other times it resembles Alexander Calder's discs.
Short as it is - the original is 62 minutes long, the version I saw is only 52 - it's challenging and not always enjoyable it. I admit I found myself bored at times and struggled to understand the action. This movie requires a time, calm and effort. But I think it's rewarding in the end: it gets the imagination working and offers an experience in a type of animation seldom used in mainstream cinema. It's a dusty gem deserving of being polished by larger audiences.
This movie rules, easily one of the better movies I've ever seen. I don't
even speak french but it doesn't really matter because there aren't many
words in it. This is nice because the Luc Ferrari soundtrack is amazing.
The film is all animation and maybe claymation/stop motion effects galore. Way tripped out. It's kinda academic but not in a dull or boring way. I believe there is a plot to the film, but usually I'm so amazed by the visual images that I hardly pay attention enough to figure it out. Basically, it's got a sort of early 80's industrial feel with lots of imaginative effects and scenery, bouncing balls morphing around crazy backgrounds, turning into small people, entertaining bigger people with weird headgear...Incredible, but pretty hard to find. It's worth the look if your into this kinda stuff.
After watching so many of Piotr Kamler's short abstract animated films on YouTube and UbuWeb, I finally saw his feature from the early '80s on the latter site. I read the synopsis on Wikipedia afterwards and while I got what was supposed to be understood as happening reading that, there was no way I would have figured that out if I just watched this cold. Knowing that the original version was 66 minutes and had narration by Michael Lonsdale (this version just had French text at the beginning), I half wondered if that might have made this viewing more enjoyable. As it was, the unusual visuals were what managed to keep my eyes open for the entire 52 minutes not to mention the electronic score by Luc Ferrari. Those visuals included many giant heads with headgear resembling those of the Egyptian pyramids, several black balls swirling together and apart, lots of mountain climbers on ropes, and one of them falling before flying with a large white ball helping him. Also that person and that ball walk and bounce with joy after becoming "friends". Okay, so on that note, Chronopolis is worth a look for anyone interested in these artistically unusual animated films.
Well... I had a few hours to kill on a Monday night in Beijing, and I
found that the French Culture Center was showing a movie about "a
gargantuan city lurking in the sky, colonized by powerful immortals who
have become jaded with eternal life." I was sold.
I don't want to be too harsh on the movie, because I do some small time video work myself. I will start out with saying the full 52 minutes version was possibly the worst movie I have ever seen. With that said, when I returned home and exclaimed to my roommates that I had seen the worst movie ever made they were in disbelief. I found an 11 minute shortened version that I showed to them. They actually liked it, and I conceded that this version wasn't too bad.
The short version reduced the excruciating pain of the long repetitive scenes down to 1 or 2 repetitions which made the film viewable and slightly interesting. I will say that Tool's "Schism" was much more bad ass in 7 minutes.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who wants to say with authority "I have seen the worst movie ever made". Kinda like that scene in Clockwork Orange where they have the guys eyelids wired open making him desensitized . I felt like less of a human walking out of that movie. More like a clay animation "icebox where my heart used to be". Plus I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle...
Not that I want to be mean but this movie really surprised me a lot. During the whole film, I was like...erm...what is this movie all about? I don't get the animations at all. Probably this movie will only be suitable for those who belongs to the 1980s. During the film, there is a group of people walked out. After the movie, many people said, "That's it?" Frankly speaking, I cannot believe that this movie was awarded the best children film award. If you are thinking of watching this film, I strongly recommend you not to. You will regret it. I'm not joking. You will find that you are just wasting both your time and money of you go and watch it.
If you're watching this without an inkling of an idea what the story is
about, then you're in for quite the surprise. Even then the synopsis
has painted a picture of a rather sane storyline, but the actual film
is anything but.
As the synopsis went, it tells of an obsessed mountain climber, which you'll see as the prologue before the opening credits and text crawl, which tells you of the presence of Chronopolis, an imaginary city that exists in dreamy manuscripts of the mind (note to self this spells trouble with flashing lights), where its inhabitants are immortals yearning for a change in their omnipresence. They can see our world, and notice of all persons this mountain climber, and the synopsis explained that they decided to contact him through alchemy, creating an intelligent sphere to meet the man.
What that translated to, is a repetitive piece of animation that a 5 year old kid could produce. Have shapes created, though credit goes to the stop motion style, and put it through a mind-numbing loop. And repeat until your eyes start to close, then move on to the next scene. If anything, the Chonopolisians (if this term exists) really love their sticks and balls, constantly playing at conjuring up that magical sphere, and having a field day playing with it before releasing it to the "other" world. It gets no better as well, when the man interacts with the sphere in yet another hypnotically boring and sleep inducing sequence.
Thank goodness of course that the run time is shorter than what's advertised, which is 57 minutes (or less) against the 70 stated. While firmly dated, its dull colours, non-existent story, scratchy soundtrack and repetitive pictures will win over no fans. Don't waste time.
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