Polish Cinema: Sexmission (Juliusz Machulski, 1984, Poland/Czechoslovakia)

     Julius Machulski's Sexmission was an immense success upon its release in Poland in 1984, though outside of the Eastern Bloc it is largely regarded as a cult curio. Machulski's second feature after the great Vabank, Sexmission has been proclaimed the best Polish film of the last 30 years in a poll by readers of three film magazines. It has become a cultural touchstone in Poland, with repeated appearances on TV and even a video game adaptation. The film's lack of recognition outside of Poland is largely understandable - the premise of two men being transported to a future where their gender has become extinct is politically incorrect on its surface. The film's handling of gender relations is broad to say the least, and probably would not play as well with audiences today as it did in the mid-80s. That being said, the film is best understood not as a sex comedy (though there is plenty of nudity and sex in the film), but rather a satire. 

    Machulski's script - written together with Pavel Hajny and Jolanta Hartwig - skewers men as much as women. Jerzy Stuhr provides much of the film's comic relief, as the idea of him seducing himself out of captivity and reintroducing male sexual energy to the world is absurd on its surface. Olgierd Lukaszewicz plays a great straight man to Stuhr, reinforcing the absurdity of the situation. But the real star of the show is Bozena Stryjkowna as Lemia (which was to be the film's original title). As a worker in the female-led society who gradually begins to realize the society's lies ("Einstein was a woman!"), her gradual recognition of the lies no doubt resonated with a Polish audience who felt a similar disillusionment with the system after the imposition of martial law in Poland in the early 1980s. Though dated, Sexmission is an inventive and often wild comedy.

8/10

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