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BERLINALE 2023 Encounters

Review: White Plastic Sky


- BERLINALE 2023: Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó's spectacular post-apocalyptic animated feature deals with key environmental issues and numerous ethical questions

Review: White Plastic Sky

Landing in the Berlinale's competitive Encounters section, Hungarian filmmaking duo Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó's post-apocalyptic animated feature White Plastic Sky [+see also:
interview: Tibor Bánóczki, Sarolta Szabó
film profile
is a visually spectacular philosophical film dealing with the key environmental issues of our time, as well as with timeless ethical questions. Ample festival and streaming play are guaranteed, and distributors able to market it to the right audiences should pay attention, as this title decidedly belongs on the big screen.

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In 2123, the Earth is a scorched wasteland without any flora or fauna. People are concentrated in cities housed in protective domes, such as Budapest, where the story takes place. With no natural resources remaining except for water, humans themselves are the greatest asset and people are allowed to live until 50 years of age. Then their bodies are implanted with a seed that will transform them into trees in special laboratories, such as the Plantation located in what used to be Lake Balaton.

Our hero is 28-year-old psychiatrist Stefan (Tamás Keresztes), whose wife Nora (Zsófia Szamosi) applies for Voluntary Implantation, giving her body over to the city at the age of 32. This is considered selfish in society and will be the source of one of the film's many ethical dilemmas. It transpires that they lost a son, and while Stefan has apparently been able to move on, she has not.

The dedicated and driven Stefan won't accept this, and after a segment involving his DJ brother and his hacker friend, he manages to infiltrate the high-security Plantation, posing as the city's supervising psychiatrist. The Plantation consists of a series of circular, domed islands in Balaton, where the lake has been replaced with cracked, sickly orange earth, peppered with rusty boats jutting out.

Here, we grasp the clearly well-researched logic of turning people into trees, and Stefan locates Doru (Judit Schell), a plant pathologist who has an unclear history with his brother and a penchant for experimenting on herself, who grudgingly helps him free Nora. She sends them to a scientific outpost deep in the Tatra Mountains, where the inventor of the seed method, Professor Paulik (Géza D Hegedűs), is supposedly able to reverse the procedure on Nora by means of surgery.

This last act of the film is its most intellectually and emotionally stimulating part. The seed in Nora has by now developed to the point where she communicates better with plants than with humans, and through her character, we deeply feel the film's provocative message: maybe the most humane thing for the planet would be to rid it of humans. What if humanity's only possible future lies in a new, hybrid, transhuman form?

Technically, the picture is nothing less than spectacular with its epic vistas and meticulous attention to detail. It was made through a combination of 3D models and manual rotoscoping, which gives it an old-fashioned feel, while the overall look is disciplined and very modern. Crucially, it is obviously consciously removed from an overly slick sci-fi style, where Judit Czakó's sober editing and Christopher White's varied and classically employed score play a critical role.

The film's only problem might be our emotional involvement in Stefan and Nora's story. Rotoscoping should theoretically closely mirror the actors' expressions in the animation, but like in most such films, it feels like something is missing. However, the couple's relationship is remarkably well developed, and even if the emotion doesn't visually translate to the screen, it is easy to arrive at it through their interactions.

White Plastic Sky is a co-production between Hungary's Salto Films and Slovakia's Artichoke. Films Boutique has the international rights.

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