O-Bi, O-Ba - The End of Civilization (1985)
Jerzy Stuhr (Soft), Krystyna Janda (Gea), Marek Walczewski (Soft's Boss), Jan Nowicki (Engineer), Henryk Bista (Chubby), Wlodzimierz Musial (Kraft), Ryszard Kotys (Cellulose Maker)
"It has been a year since nuclear war ended. Seeing our uniforms, the survivors demonstrated indifference, even contempt. Fools. Who won the war? The Boers were not coming. No one was. We were left alone with a pack of survivors whom we were supposed to defend. Defend? They had to be herded together, organized, and moved to safety, to some cover against the fallout where they would have a chance to wait, to survive longer and to start everything from scratch again. There was such a place. High up in the mountains there was a structure with a dome insulated from the atmospheric influence. We only had to persuade the silly mob to move to that shelter. That was how Project Ark came into being. The Ark... We invented it to save them." - Soft, opening narration
Nobody does post-apocalyptic movies quite like cultures who have experienced a little apocalypse of their own. Whether it be a former Soviet's nihilistic vision of a post-apocalyptic world in Late August at the Hotel Ozone or the true story of a young boy who was in Hiroshima on the day the bomb fell and dealt with the hellish conditions thereafter in Barefoot Gen., nobody's better on extrapolating on the horrors of war than those who have lived through them.
O-Bi, O-Ba - The End of Civilization (a title I have found no explanation for) is from Poland, home of overrated sausages, Walter Koenig's Russian accent, and the most infamous concentration camp of World War II. The film was written and directed by Piotr Szulkin, a film-maker who took a few stabs at dystopian films that I'll get around to reviewing at some point.
Right out the gate O-Bi, O-Ba is depressingly bleak. It is one year after the end of a nuclear war that has ravaged the world. A group of nearly 1000 people are living in a fortified dome at the top of a mountain, their only shelter from the nuclear winter blowing outside. Food is scarce and quarters are cramped but everyone will be alright when The Ark arrives to sheperd them all off into paradise.
The only problem is that there is no Ark. The Ark was a fabrication that was necessary since the civilians were openly contemptuous of any military presence post-war, to convince them to follow the soldiers into the dome. And while the promise of The Ark was good for the soldiers at the time it has now inflated into a bizarre religious movement that is contributing to the degradation of civilization within the bunker.
There's the man who reconstitutes old books into cellulose which he uses to make loaves of bread. The rich man hoarding pairs of animals on the say-so of the bible. The weirdo living in a fridge with a fish tank full of the corpses of his favorite women. The group of people practicing tight-rope walking so they can get aboard The Ark via its mooring ropes. The dome is filled with wild-eyed maniacs convinced that their savior is only only a moment away and when it arrives none of this will matter.
The other problem is that the dome is degrading and coming apart at the seams. If there's a breach, the survivors will be exposed to lethal levels of radiation and bitter cold. A machine that helps keep the dome from falling apart is broken and the only man who can fix it refuses on the basis that they're all doomed regardless of his actions. The movie lays out a foregone conclusion: these people aren't going to come to a happy end.
We follow Soft (Jerzy Stuhr) an ex-military man charged with keeping the refugees in order. It's basically a day in Soft's life as he goes about his job of picking up slanderous leaflets left behind in the night, purchasing an onion, and trying to talk the woman he loves out of being a prostitute. Soft is one of the few people who knows that there is no ark coming and he tries desperately to keep morale up as he experiences the depth and breadth of the peoples' mental delusions about The Ark.
Every one of them is expecting to go onboard the Ark so they never take time to clean up after or take care of themselves. It would seem that the dream of leaving the bunker over-rules logic as people rough up the only home they have in hope of some impossibly utopian ideal on their ship of dreams.
O-Bi, O-Ba is a nice exploration of a world where the idea of hope is itself oppressive. All these delusional idiots have made life harder in the bunker and their optimism is killing them faster than the doom and gloom of being trapped in a bunker normally would. Soft is trying to hold things together, both literally and figuratively, as everything comes crashing down around him.
The film itself is beautifully crisp and contemplative, nary a bit of violence as our hero wanders from hellish vignette to hellish vignette, learning just how screwed they all are. The sets are sparse but lived-in and have wonderful ruined futuristic look slightly reminiscent of Blade Runner. I cannot confirm any of this but there's a good chance that some of the set-designs for movies like Snowpiercer borrowed from the designs in this film, and that's not even speaking of the likelihood that this movie may have partially inspired the Fallout series.
As a lead Jerzy Stuhr is an interesting case. Soft experiences a series of horrors in the space of only a day but only a couple of them actually seem to ruffle his feathers significantly. One gets the impression that Soft has seen a lot of nightmares in his year in the dome and while Stuhr plays him as fairly unflappable he also plays him as very human.
O-Bi, O-Ba - The End of Civilization is a very wonderfully crafted film and an interesting take on the post-nuclear sub-genre but at times it feels like more of a series of vignettes than an overarching story. It's a bit of a tour of various bleak post-apocalyptic scenarios strung together by a framework of a man simply wandering around aimlessly looking at things. This isn't to say that I don't find this film to be quite good, but considering the difficulty involved in finding a copy of this to watch I don't recommend one go too far out of their way to see it.
O-Bi, O-Ba is not an easy film to find in a physical or digital format. Amazon.co.uk has a few used copies on all-regions DVD for a hefty but not entirely unreasonable fee. You can also find the movie on Youtube.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
" There were a lot of explosions for two people blending in."