d. Wilhelm Sasnal / Poland / 2010 /  70 mins
Downstairs @ Prince Charles Cinema (London, UK)

Still from Wilhelm Sasnal's Fallout

The overwhelming majority of post-apocalyptic or dystopic visions served up to cinema audiences – dominated, naturally, by the character-lite, formulaic plotting of roaming gangs of Hollywood writers – present a humanity which exists purely to overcome adversity, re-populate the Earth and live happily ever after. And yet it surely seems more likely that the survivors of some cataclysmic event would eventually continue to do exactly what they did beforehand: wander through life with purposeless abandon, look after their own interests above anything resembling the common good, and sit around awaiting instruction on what to do next. It might make for challenging viewing at times, but thankfully it is precisely this sort of vision which Polish artist and filmmaker Wilhelm Sasnal serves up in his second feature, Fallout.

Of course some of the dominant narratives do offer occasional glimpses of this element of humanity’s overwhelmingly pessimistic veraciousness, but it exists almost exclusively as an ‘evil’ which the ‘true’ heroes of the piece must overcome. Thus, in something like Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006), the murderous hordes and agents of evil act only as hurdles for the central characters to leap on their way to bringing a ray of hope back into a dark world. More recently, John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2009) manages to enact some sort of pessimistic self-preservation, but it does so as an anomaly which relies on the past pedigree of both director and author, who share something of a bleak, dystopic vision of humanity. That said, even The Road seems to withhold a sense that what occurs on-screen is but a precursor to a more hopeful future.

And depending on how you interpret it, I suppose the same could be said of Fallout. A disjointed, pessimistic vision of undisclosed post-apocalyptic, ex-Soviet squalor, it begins with a caption which perhaps provides some clues to Sasnal’s intentions, referring to the events of the film as little more than a ‘brief moment in time’. And Sasnal manages to perfectly evoke an intriguing brand of timeless dystopia, even if his camera does feel a little restless and somewhat out of step with the general sense of calm bewilderment that paralyses the central characters. Indeed, were it not for a preference of editing over the long take, Fallout would evoke (more than it already does) something specifically Tarkovskyian in its bleak aimlessness.

Distinguishing it even further from Hollywood’s usual dystopic visions, the handful of characters in Fallout are both complex and mysterious, and their motivations are never made entirely clear, nor are their relationships with each other – before, during or after the unnamed cataclysm.

Indeed, this is a remarkably engaging piece, in which the audience must work to derive meaning, to find motivation and to make sense of the disjointed narrative. This central confusion of character, setting and temporal arrangement is key to Sasnal’s evocation of the confused stasis which greets his protagonists during this ‘brief moment in time’. Opening with them waiting attentively at the foot of a cluster of loudspeakers seemingly awaiting instructions on what to do next, Fallout closes in precisely the same manner. Still they wait, still they crave guidance, still they wait. Ever patient, ever still, beneath the loudspeakers like Vladimir and Estragon beneath their barren tree. What they are waiting for, and whether the words will ever be spoken, we will never know.

Since no clips from Fallout seem to exist online, this is one of Sasnal’s earlier 8mm works, Untitled (Touch Me).

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