Polish Cinema: Ga-ga: Glory to the Heroes (Piotr Szulkin, 1986, Poland)

Ga-Ga: Glory to the Heroes is a dystopian sci-fi comedy directed by Piotr Szulkin. Szulkin made a string of sci-fi films in Poland in the 1980s - Ga-Ga is the third in his apocalyptic trilogy following The War of the Worlds and O-Bi, O-Ba. Regrettably, Szulkin’s career effectively ended following the fall of communism. His style is as distinct as any of the great auteurs of Polish cinema. Ga-Ga, inspired by Pasolini’s short story “La Ricotta”, takes place in the future - in this case, the 21st Century. In this future, prisoners aboard a spacecraft have been assigned the task of colonizing foreign planets. Our protagonist Scope, played with deadpan inexpressiveness by the great Daniel Olbrychsky, lands on a planet and soon discovers that its residents have plans for him.
Filmed in the industrial city of Lodz, the setting of this planet evokes Blade Runner, if that film had adopted American culture for its dystopia vision instead of Chinese culture. The streets are lined with neon and Christmas lights. Bars have American pinball games. As Scope quickly learns, after being offered a prostitute by the bureaucrat Chudy (Jerzy Stuhr) on his arrival, this planet is obsessed with sex. It is also obsessed with violence, expressed through the media. As Scope will learn, this planet forces its heroes to commit crimes in particularly violent ways, so they can be impaled in a public ritual and serve as a lesson to society.
While the American preoccupations with sex and violence seem a target of Szulkin’s satirical eye, Poland also figures as a point of satire, particularly through the irritating bureaucrat with ulterior motives, played in an over-the-top fashion by Stuhr. Szulkin also brings in broader philosophical notions. On board the prison ship, the captain tells Scope that he is a free man. Likewise, officials on the new planet assure him that “[they] are all free people”. The reality in both cases is that this couldn’t to be further from the truth.


7/10

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