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Entry updated 14 February 2022. Tagged: Film.

["Hydro-Mystery"] Film (1971). Zespół Filmowy Plan. Directed by Andrzej Kondratiuk. Written by Andrzej Bonarski and Andrzej Kondratiuk. Cast includes Iga Cembrzyńska, Roman Kłosowski, Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, Wiesław Michnikowski and Józef Nowak. 70 minutes. Black and white.

Hydro-Mystery uses the Superhero genre as a vehicle for Satire. Shot in 1970 and released in 1971, the film delivered a powerful one-two of Political commentary and comedic relief, instantly recognizable to audiences familiar with absurdities of everyday life in the communist state. The use of surreal and grotesque humour to satirize the reality of communist Poland combines surprisingly well with the register of a superhero movie, and Hydro-Mystery remains the only Polish feature film to focus on an actual superhero. Genre Icons Batman and Superman are both referenced.

Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, experiences some of the most severe heatwaves in its history. Mysterious water shortages burden its population. Professor Milczarek (Michnikowski) and his team of Scientists, struggling to solve the mystery, decide to call upon "The Ace" (Nowak) for help – a superhero whose assumed, everyday identity is that of engineer Jan Walczak. Ace squares off with "Doctor Spot" (Maklakiewicz), an archetypal mastermind of a Villain who attempts to vaporize nearby water reservoirs with an atomic reactor (see Nuclear Energy) in order to sell the resulting rain clouds to the caliphate of Kabur, a fictional desert state run by the evil "Prince of Kabur" (Kłosowski).

Ace becomes a walking, talking Parody of the system's propaganda machine, with his mundane identity and superhero alter-ego combining to fight not only crime (see Crime and Punishment) but even the smallest divergence from the social order. He often recites the regime's propaganda slogans calling for efficiency at work, sobriety in society, and so on. Evil Dr Spot, on the other hand, might easily be interpreted as an analogue for private initiative (capitalism); he is interested only in making money and has betrayed those higher ideals of science and labour necessary for the collective good of mankind.

Characters beyond the three main protagonists – Ace, Dr Spot and the Prince of Kabur – appear episodically. The majority of the film is designed as a series of sketches that slowly push the plot forward. Many of these vignettes are heavy with absurdism (see Absurdist SF) and a sense of the surreal and might easily stand on their own. The opening credits, instead of being displayed on the screen, are sung, using a mixture of vocalization, scat singing and melodramatic declamation by Iga Cembrzyńska, wife of the film's director, Andrzej Kondratiuk. Her vocal abilities are employed later in the film, helping to build intense, and ultimately absurd, climatic moments. The credits sequence is unique in Polish Cinema and the use of sound elsewhere in the film enriches otherwise relatively plain sets and locations. Ace's Superpowers – he can fly, is super-intelligent (see Intelligence) and has superhuman strength – also possess a comedic quality: flying effects were achieved by filming actor Józef Nowak with the camera upside down, making him look more as if he was being tossed around by some invisible power. We quickly realize that the winning qualities of Ace are not, however, his superpowers but rather the purity of his character and his dedication to defending and preserving the social order. Whenever Ace applies his wisdom or his superpowers to a problem his voice booms, and echoes across the land.

Hydro-Mystery is a comedy before it is a superhero movie but one nonetheless that is part of a larger trend in Polish cinema to employ the techniques of Genre SF – bureaucratic Dystopias are not uncommon – to ridicule the social and economic realities of an oppressive regime (see Polish Sociological SF). Ingenious application of some of the more familiar Clichés of the superhero genre affords Hydro-Mystery a distinctive place in the Polish cinematic tradition. [JPy]


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