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ARRAS 2018 Visions of the East

Review: The Man with the Magic Box

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- Bodo Kox’s second film is a twisted love story in which he pays homage to a whole host of science-fiction classics

Review: The Man with the Magic Box
Olga Bołądź and Piotr Polak in The Man with the Magic Box

After successfully traversing Polish “off-cinema” with his professional debut, Girl from the Wardrobe [+see also:
trailer
interview: Bodo Kox
film profile
]
Bodo Kox remains one of the country’s most singular voices. The 2013 film was a touching love story between two extreme outsiders: the oversensitive Magda and Tomek, who has savant syndrome. The world portrayed on screen was thick with black humour, oddities and tenderness directed towards the protagonists. Kox’s new offering, The Man with the Magic Box [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, screening in the Competition 1-2 section of the Warsaw Film Festival following its world premiere in the Flash Forward section of the Busan Film Festival, is no different in this regard. Set in Warsaw in 2030, the movie is just as stylish and eccentric, but is also disciplined and coherent – a rarity for this kind of production incorporating so many different ingredients.

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We follow Goria, played with charm and nonchalance by Olga Bołądź (Botox, Forest, 4am [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
), and Adam (a newcomer to keep your eye on, Piotr Polak), who work in the same building. She is an ambitious and slightly vulgar corporate worker, while he is a withdrawn cleaning guy from the city’s devastated east bank. They fall in love at first sight, which is apparently not appropriate in a world that seems closer to 1984 than 2030. Adam commits an even more serious crime when he finds a vintage radio in his flat and discovers its time-travelling abilities. Whisked back to the 1950s, when Poland was being squeezed by the iron fist of Stalinism, he becomes a fugitive and is chased by some bizarre security officers.

If the story seems a tad complicated, that’s because it is. Luckily, The Man with the Magic Box is not primarily a plot-driven oeuvre, and the director, who also penned the script, focuses more on style, mood and cinema itself. Kox is clearly a film buff, bringing together a character from Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime films, themes from Blade Runner, the dystopian atmosphere of Children of Men, Hollywoodian vibes from Men in Black and David Fincher’s Fight Club, as well as hints of late Polish maestro Andrzej Żuławski’s works, besides many others. The movie also impresses with its bleak vision of Warsaw 13 years from now. Torn between the modern West and the savage East, and once again under totalitarian rule, the Polish capital is as alluring as it is distressing.

In the hands of a less talented director, such a huge amount of references and an eclectic variety of styles may well have resulted in pure gibberish, but with Kox in charge, The Man… proves to be a disciplined and bump-free ride. Apart from the great casting – particular kudos to the director’s pet actor, Sebastian Stankiewicz – the film boasts great production and costume design, entrusted to Wojciech Żogała and Katarzyna Adamczyk, respectively, as well as excellent music composed by Sandro di Stefano, who won an award in September at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.

The Man with the Magic Box was produced by Poland’s Alter Ego Pictures and Italy’s Vargo Film. The Polish distributor is Kino Świat, while the world sales are handled by Reel Suspects.

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