Polish Cinema: O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization (Piotr Szulkin, 1985, Poland)

The third film in Piotr Szulkin’s tetralogy, O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization is an ambitious low-budget dystopian sci-fl flick. The film takes place after a nuclear holocaust. The remaining survivors live underground in a dome. They eagerly await the arrival the “Ark”, a ship they believe will arrive to rescue them. Our protagonist Soft, played by Jerzy Stuhr, is a bureaucrat within governmental order of the dome. He soon uncovers that the dome will collapse, and seeks to get to the truth of the Ark and the potential future that awaits him. 
Much like Szulkin’s subsequent film, Ga-ga: Glory to the Heroes, O-Bi, O-Ba proceeds as a series of interactions between a confused male narrator and the various functionaries and residents of his environment. The interactions are often humorous, absurd, or nonsensical, with each character seemingly on the verge of madness. Much of the dialogue is quite obtuse, creating a sense of paranoia and confusion that can become tiresome after a while. This is redeemed by the overall atmosphere of the film.With its blue-green hue, it recalls Andrei Tarkovsy’s Stalker. Some of the imagery - a tightrope walker hovering over a sea of nothingness, hordes of ragged survivors walking toward their doom - is truly incredible.
As the film’s plot concerns officials who wish to prop up a disintegrating system, it is hard not to draw comparisons to the impending collapse of the Polish People’s Republic. The film’s nuclear scenario seems especially prescient in the wake of Chernobyl, which happened one year later. However, Szulkin’s film is open to a variety of interpretations, and can equally be read as a critique of capitalism - with the false promise of the “Ark” representing the false promises of Western life to Poles under communism. Overall, O-Bi, O-Ba is a striking if somewhat obtuse effort. 



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