Maciej Kawalski’s latest short is an absurdist, comic journey into a psychiatric hospital that’s entertaining if not quite as remarkable as it teases it might be.
Atlas tells the story of a man, played by Tomasz Kot, in a hospital room who appears locked in place, arms in the air. Nicknamed ‘Atlas’ by the staff because his pose is reminiscent of the Greek myth of the man who holds up the world, they are a mixture of perplexed, intrigued and callously skeptical about his plight, since they are totally unaware of the cause. Members of staff have all heard different reasons why he has ended up this way, and the rumours and anticipation around him escalate to a crescendo in the film’s finale.
It’s certainly an interesting idea, and it’s played for laughs by writer-director Kowalski, who opts for a whimsical, absurd tone to a film that could in other circumstances have been played straight. The story’s interest lies in the wild speculation of the people around Atlas, and in the ways that they project what they want to see on to his stoic frame.
The tales told about his life and what led him to that point are those of romantic tragedy or remarkable feats of heroism, and they allow the staff to feel sympathy towards him, all the while ramping up the absurdity of the situation as everyone tries to understand what is actually going on. Snappily shot and edited throughout, it is entertaining to watch them all speculate on his true fate, and the plethora of options provided make for a fun mystery, while also offering an effective allegory for other people’s perceptions of those who have struggled with their mental health.
The opening scene is indicative of the films off the wall nature. The camera pans slowly into the halls of an ornate building while jaunty, upbeat music plays and welcomes the viewer to the stark, white walls of the hospital. The contrast between the music and the setting is exacerbated by Atlas’ plight, which is discovered immediately after the music stops.
This sets the tone for the absurdity, which is then maintained through the dialogue, as the staff members mutter and speculate on the true reason for his situation. They are all well-acted and engaging on-screen, but here is perhaps where the film could be a little more hard-hitting and elevate from diverting whimsical to truly adventurous.
Coming in at around twenty minutes it’s easy to understand why the boat wasn’t pushed further out, but with the premise established early on, it would have been interesting to see the absurdist elements expanded upon and played with a little more, perhaps in order to drive some of the film’s allegorical points home further. The film ends on an entertaining and suitably bizarre note making its final sequence its biggest success, but it lacks the punch it might have had if some of the ideas had been explored a little more.
Atlas can soon be seen at DC Shorts and Miami Short Film Festival.