Wednesday 22 August 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 8. A Visitor to a Museum

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

A Visitor to a Museum
Director - Konstantin Lopushansky
Country - Soviet Union
Year - 1989
Runtime - 136 minutes

Ever since the post-apocalyptic flash forward scenes in The Terminator became indelibly etched into my psyche as a young film fan I have rifled through the depths of world cinema to uncover any films which share even a remote similarity in dealing with a dystopian future. At first my focus was on explosive action films but, once the majority of these had been exhausted, my gaze eventually turned to films which explored these themes in a cerebral and thought-provoking manner.

A Visitor to a museum sits firmly in the latter camp, with its art-house sensibilities and high concept theological storyline potentially acting as a barrier for many audiences, before you even consider the film was made in the former Soviet Union and has never been released on disc in the UK. If, like myself, you are obsessed with films that take place in a post-apocalyptic world, then these obstacles will easily be overcome in the endless search for your next dystopian fix, giving you a glimpse into a vision of a twisted future that is unlike any you will have encountered until now.

Our introduction to this bleak existence sees a lone man arriving by boat to a landscape covered in huge mounds of rubbish and waste. As he explores this dishevelled area he passes the deformed victims of an ecological disaster that has ravaged the earth. These mutants are kept away from the healthy surviving population and, although they are curious about his arrival, they steer clear of him at first; their child-like nature and nervous disposition leaving them fearful of his intentions.  

We eventually learn that the protagonist is a tourist in the dilapidated region he explores, hoping to reach the ruins of a submerged museum that is only accessible when the tide is low. If he is willing to traverse this treacherous route to the museum he would have only a single day there to collate his findings before having to make the return journey to avoid the risk of ending his days in a watery grave.

Director Konstantin Lopushansky worked closely with Andrei Tarkovsky as a Production Assistant on his science-fiction masterpiece Stalker, and his time spent with the auteur has clearly had a huge influence on his approach to film-making. Long takes and visual spectacles take precedence over dialogue and exposition, leaving much of the strange world as a mystery to both the audience and the characters unfortunate enough to inhabit it. The steady pace may not be to everyone’s taste but if you have an appreciation for cinematography you will delight as the camera lingers over the stunning scenes that unfold in a breath-taking manner.

Our protagonist’s encounters with those he meets are fascinating but it is the scenes where he is alone in the vast wasteland that are truly haunting and mesmerising. Lopushansky has managed to capture the weather at its most volatile, and this acts as the perfect backdrop to the journey to and from the museum. Huge gusts of winds billow against the shallow waters; funnelling the sea into channels that allow the visitor to pass. Lightning strikes in the distance; illuminating the sky and heightening the sense of hopelessness. This apparent mastery of the elements is miraculous - I genuinely struggle to fathom how long it must have taken for Lopushansky to capture these monumental sequences. 

Throughout A Visitor to a Museum the ambiguous storyline takes second place to the incredible visuals and oppressive mood that is created. It is still important to the film’s development but this is a mystical journey that prompts much reflection and introspection, allowing the audience to interpret the religious symbolism and conjure up their own ideas on the director’s intentions.

A Visitor to a Museum is a vastly underrated science-fiction feature. Whilst it does not quite reach the impeccable levels of film-making that Tarkovsky achieved, his influence is felt throughout, and the final rapturous scene comes close to encompassing pure cinematic genius. Seek out this film and you will take a trip into a dystopian future unlike any other, and experience the superb craftsmanship and wild imagination of a storyteller at the height of his creative talent.

The only available trailer on Youtube doesn't have English subtitles but I hope it provides a glimpse into the strangely atmospheric world Lopushansky has created

If you take the time to watch A Visitor to a Museum then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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