Want to see a sex scene as a terrorist attack takes place in the background? If so, then this movie is for you. The Man With the Magic Box is an explosive—occasionally climactic—sci-fi thriller with a kinky twist.
There’s a lot of twists in this twisted fable. The greatest of which comes in the spirit of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Our hero, a man by the name of Adam, must decide if he would rather live in the tumultuous present or the dreams of a Utopian past. But what exactly constitutes as past or present? He’s presently living in 2030 Warsaw, but the magic radio in his room takes him back to the 1950s. Where he decides to stay is up to the dueling of his dueling polarities.
“The first time we see these two lovebirds they are being interrogated separately. ‘Have you ever seen Men in Black?'”
Dueling polarities are nothing new for Polish director Bodo Kox, whose film isn’t sure whether it wants to be a Terry Gilliam psychodrama, a Tarkovsy melodrama or drama-less trash in the name of Besson. What is sure about is its ambition. This eager-to-please Polish aberration will have you rooting for its success—the very idea of a time travel love story would intrigue any fan of the sci-fi genre.
It had me intrigued for the first hour or so. The first time we see these two lovebirds they are being interrogated separately. “Have you ever seen Men in Black?” a man in a grey suit asks. “We have a device just like it,” he tells Goria (Oga Boladz). (A mind wiping device might have come in handy for the third act. Still, your memory will cherish the mysterious moments of the first two).
The first time we see these two together, it’s love at first stare. He’s working as a cleaner. She’s staring from her office. And before you can change your Facebook status to ‘It’s complicated,” they’re having passionate sex in his dingy apartment. That’s not the only thing unprotected in their relationship: We are told that he’s a fugitive, the government is watching and that reality is uncertain.
“…an intriguing premise. One made all the more gripping by its comments on television.”
It’s an intriguing premise. One made all the more gripping by its comments on television. How its viewers willingly abide by whatever is being streamed that day. The way “the magic box” guides Adam through the Andy Warhol-like future. Warsaw takes the shape of a Rubik’s Cube. A world of systemic patterns and flashy colors. It’s an easy one to get lost in from your own television. Which makes it a shame the plot also gets lost amidst the modernized skyscrapers.
That’s to say that The Man With the Magic Box has more heart than craft. The film is as cluttered as the trash heaps the camera captures in passing by. Too many ideas, too little time. It’s the same problem this relationship is faced with. When Goria and Adam get ideas for the future, the government interferes. Whenever the future gets ideas about the past, Kox isn’t sure how to tie the two together. Love may win in the end, but the botched finale will have you feeling lukewarm.
The Man With The Magic Box (2019) Directed by Bodo Kox. Written by Bodo Kox, Paulina Krajnik. Starring Oga Boladz, Piotr Polak, Sebastian Stankiewicz, Helena Norowicz, Wojciech Zieliński.