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'15 Corners of the World' ('15 Stron swiata'): Wroclaw Review

15 Corners Still - H 2014
Courtesy of New Horizons Festival

The Bottom Line

Polish profile casts an intermittently haunting spell.

 

Venue

New Horizons Film Festival, Wroclaw, Poland, July 2, 2014

Director

Zuzanna Solakiewicz

 

The work of electronic-music pioneer Eugeniusz Rudnik is celebrated in Zuzanna Solakiewicz's debut, a documentary world-premiering at the Polish festival

An audio-visual exploration of realms hovering between the digital and the analogue, 15 Corners of the World (15 Stron swiata) has a definite angle if not much real edge. Showcasing veteran electronic music composer Eugeniusz Rudnik, Zuzanna Solakiewicz's documentary, which premiered at Wroclaw ahead of its international bow in Locarno, is more impressionistic and enigmatic than informative or analytical. Often resembling a series of variable avant-garde shorts, it's a festival and small-screen proposition that lacks the crowd-pleasing touch of Dominik Spritzendorfer and Elena Tikhonova's wider-ranging Austrian variant Elektro Moskva. Aficionados will revel; few new converts will be seduced.

Perhaps half of the picture comprises footage — some archive, most contemporary — of Rudnik at work in the windowless "Analogue Studio of Polish Radio," Solakiewicz's crotch-high camera swinging back and forth as Rudkin swoops from console to console. These sessions are interspersed with visualizations that use Warsaw street scenes to provide concrete counterpoints to his abstract, avant-garde compositions. Captions are few and commentary nonexistent, Solakiewicz instead drawing narration from Rudnik's extensive diaries, in which complex technical and theoretical observations rub shoulders with poetic ruminations. He calls his music "silence being distorted"; the infinite intricacies of human voice have "the warmth of the cow-shed."

Rudnik's output is ultra-modern in style but now quaintly archaic in terms of technique, assembled using laborious tape-to-tape methods little changed since his career began in the early 1960s. It's often powerfully redolent of how folk in past decades imagined the future — our present — would feel, and more importantly, sound. In the opening minutes there's a droll extract from an obscure Eastern European science-fiction extravaganza (a distant planet is "like a book in an unfamiliar language"), hinting at Rudnik's occasional contributions to cinema. He provided the soundtrack for Daniel Szczechura's classic animated short Hobby (1968), and for Marek Piestrak's Stanislaw Lem adaptation Pilot Pirx's Inquest (1968), not that such information is actually included in the film itself.

Indeed, any viewer wondering how Rudnik's oeuvre intersected with that of such illustrious, more internationally renowned peers as Szczechura or Lem — or how it was informed by the political scene in Soviet-dominated Poland and the enormous changes in the country since Communism's collapse — will be disappointed. 15 Corners of the World really is, for better or worse, all about the music, though the lack of onscreen titles or dates makes it impossible to trace any kind of development over time. Rudnik's work is presented as a continuum, a relentless probing of the farther reaches of sound in radical, challenging ways that the film itself never tries to emulate.

Working with what the credits specify as "the last reels of 16mm Fuji Film Reala 5000 ... remaining in Poland", Solakiewicz does deploy a range of quietly ambitious gambits: eye-catching sequences of choreographed performance by Weronika Pelczynska overlay images of Warsaw residents going about their business downtown; stark tram wires evoke musical stave and the harsh angularity of modern architecture accentuates the spikier outcrops of Rudnik's aural imagination.

At its best the film conjures a hypnotic, disorienting strangeness; at its worst, such as in a small handful of "acted" interludes, we seem to have stumbled into a compilation of 1980s New Wave video clips. While there's zip about Rudnik's personal life — even with regard to his actual job at Polish radio — an affably mild-mannered, professorial eccentricity emerges, before a final-reel interaction with bumbling technicians suddenly and amusingly reveals a choleric side to his sanguine persona.

Production company: Endorfina Studio
Director/Screenwriter: Zuzanna Solakiewicz
Producer: Marta Golba
Cinematographer: Gregory Zvika Portnoy
Editor: Mateusz Romaszkan
Composer: Eugeniusz Rudnik
Sales: Endorfina, Warsaw
No rating, 79 minutes