Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review of Accumulator 1

Jan and Zdenek Sverak are one of the few major international successfully filmmakers for whom movies are almost a family business. Sure, there are the Coppolas, the husband-wife team Straub-Huillet and the various brother duos (Coen, Farrelly, Quay, Dardenne, Fleischer, Boulting), but long running father-son pairings are few and far between. Rarer still are cases where the son directs the father.

Zdenek Sverak was already a well-established and highly-popular actor and screenwriter (voted the 25th greatest Czech in a television poll) when his son, Jan, made his directorial debut. Jan Sverak naturally leveraged his father’s talent for the script and acting in “The Elementary School” (1991), which brought him quick acclaim. They’ve reprised their director + actor/screenwriter formula to great success, creating some of the best-known Czech films of recent history such as the Academy Award winning “Kolya” (1996) and the record-breaking big-budget “Dark Blue World” (2001).

One of their earliest films, “Accumulator 1” (1994), never saw a US release, though it’s available on international DVD. As if one father-son director-actor relationship wasn’t enough, it stars Petr Forman, son of the Czech Republic’s most famous director, Milos Forman. Zdenek Sverak costars.

“Accumulator 1” is a light-hearted sci-fi comedy that includes elements of modern fairy tale and New Age spiritualism. Olda (Forman) is an average Joe who undergoes a near-fatal spell of depression. He attributes this, credibly, to the fact that his girlfriend dumped him for his best friend. However, this is little more than the trigger that put him in front of his television, which is methodically sapping away his life. The culprit is a parasitic alter-ego partying inside television-land, a place where everyone who has appeared on television cavorts amongst TV aspect-ratio boxes of simulated reality.

The idea is that everyone has a personal energy reserve that can be powered-up by exercise, nature, music, sex, etc. This is a fairly typical New Age concept that would have struck me as only mildly interesting on its own, but the Sveraks add an interesting dark side: a mirror world inside the TV that subsists by sucking this positive energy out of viewers. Olda doesn’t realize what’s going on until well into the movie when his mentor (Sverak), comes across the theory. His low-key adventures begin with merely finding the willpower to resist lounging into oblivion and culminate with a dangerous plan to overload the television world and thus destroy it.

The premise is simple and glib enough that it won’t scare away the scientifically handicapped, but sly enough to be original and amusing. The SF aspects take a distinct backseat to the romance and comedy at the heart of the film, mostly serving as a staging platform for cute, quick scenes that earn frequent chuckles.

The tone is endearing, if somewhat mismatched. Particularly the juxtaposition of gooey love-story with even gooier interior shots of what’s going on inside Sverak’s body (often hilariously in-your-face and unsparing) and the tongue-in-cheek “TV is bad for you” moralizing with just enough sex and nudity that it would get an R in the States. For my money the combination works. I’d rather kids were watching this type of film in their formative years than the commercialized violence and eye-candy of most Hollywood SF or even the watered-down “wholesome” films that promote bland conformity.

I wish more time had been spent on the TV world, however, which seemed like a fascinating idea for an alternative reality, but which is ultimately glimpsed only in isolated spurts. The TV-world Olda is completely underdeveloped, perhaps to prevent us from relating to him overly much (he’s kind of the bad guy) or because the screenplay introduces him too late to give him his own story arc. Maybe the point is that TV-world doppelgangers would be devoid of personality and nuance… like most characters on TV.

What shines through as the best aspect of “Accumulator 1” is the whimsical humor, which would not be out of place in an Edgar Wright film. The movie has several moments of inspired weirdness just silly enough to work, like a shootout where Olda tries to turn off a storefront of energy-sucking televisions with his personal arsenal of remote controls or a dentist convention where drinks are mixed with a giant electric tooth polisher that goes haywire.

Walrus Rating: 7.0


Mad Dog said...

How surprising, that Film Walrus would be in support of a movie that disapproves of television. |:3

But joking aside, the geeky vampire drama Angel did a pretty funny spin on the same idea where a demonic children's puppet show (think Sesame Street if Jim Henson had originated from Hell) sucks the life from its viewers. And accidentally turns Angel into a puppet version of himself.

FilmWalrus said...

I'm pretty game for puppet versions of anything.

Molly said...

This movie sounds almost irresistible.

I believe that very, very silly episode of Angel is called "Smile Time."