Surrounded by a seemingly endless night, machines are formed from constellations of lights that effortlessly dig in an undefined space. During the day, a conveyor belt comes into motion, as if by itself. Its ear-splitting working and shaking is observed and controlled by a woman. She circles around the conveyor belt, ridding the foundation of clumps of dirt that have fallen off. Her Sisyphean task is supervised from time to time. When she sees the supervisors coming, she informs the others and goes to inspect the conveyor belt. At this moment, the circlings and observations of the machine, the work becomes an end in itself. The human being as the maintainer of the machine. Astonishment takes the place of understanding.
In Orbitalna the relationship between man, machine and nature is a productive, but dysfunctional and ultimately alienating one. The natural order has been perverted. Nature is barren, hostile – harvested by gigantic industrial apparatuses and the humans that tend to them. This appears to be the existence of a humanity, whose mastery over nature has led to their own enslavement and alienation at the hand of these machines.
In a 1961 essay, Erich Fromm explores Marx’s concept and how capitalist ideas of production dehumanize and alienate mankind from the world constructed. In Orbitalna, there is much toil from both machines and men, but no discernible end product of this labour – no object to fetishize – a Sisyphean task. The only product-objects, so to speak, are the machines themselves: The very things created by human hands and the very products that hold their humanity at one remove. In Orbitalna it is not the humans who operate the machines, rather they function as fleshy components, becoming a codependent appendage of the machine.
This mundane existence, this ‘reality’, is captured through documentary-style cinematography, then rendered otherworldly by Malaszczack’s aesthetic choices. The physical world is abstracted through a heightened color palette - its vivid, saturated greens and yellows suggestive of alien worlds or poisoned landscapes. An incessant, pulsing sound – industrial and synthetic – further estranges the viewer, dislocating the senses.
As with Malaszczak’s earlier feature film Sienawka, there are references reminiscent of science-fiction movies. The world is both recognizable and unrecognizable to us. This could easily be read as dystopian vision of the future, yet it takes place in our present.
Through Malaszczak’s camerawork the gaze of the spectator is first decontextualized, then frustrated. Humanity becomes literally obscured by the machines it serves, and a sense of powerlessness and alienation results. Through restless scanning camera movements, the human becomes fragmented visually, potentially echoing the process to which Marx saw working man subjected by its dominant, exploitative producers.
Orbitalna challenges the viewer in a cinematic way to confront elements of contemporary existence. Through the film's use of cinematography, the spectator is offered the chance to transcend this existence, through use of the imagination and through attentive and engaged viewing.
Berlinale, Forum Expanded
with the financial support of Polish Film Institute
Leo Robin Knauth
Jorge Piquer Rodriguez