Friday 3 November 2023

Raindance 2023: White Plastic Sky

Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó's first animated feature White Plastic Sky is no stranger to this year's festival circuit, with the film having already played at the likes of the Berlinale, Annecy IAFF, and Vancouver IFF.  As 2023 heads into its last couple of months, White Plastic Sky shows no signs of letting up on its globetrotting as it takes its place among the selections for this year's Raindance Film Festival, where it screens tomorrow, which marks the close of this year's edition.  As is not uncommon with Raindance titles, White Plastic Sky's screening—which takes place at 2 p.m. at London's Vue Piccadilly cinema—will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers; given the thought-provoking nature of Bánóczki and Szabó's movie, the post-film discussion should be among the most fascinating at this year's festival.    

Set in a climate change-ravaged Budapest a century from now, White Plastic Sky's world is one in which every human has a maximum lifespan of 50 years and, upon hitting this milestone, each person undergoes a procedure that sees them transform into a tree, which in turn is used to sustain the current human population; as 50th birthday experiences go, this one is a far cry from a champagne afternoon tea or a short break in a boutique hotel.  Then there are those who opt to check out even earlier, as is the case with Nora (Zsófia Szamosi), a young thirtysomething who has recently lost a child and—shortly thereafter—the will to live.  Nora's sacrifice is gratefully welcomed by the authorities but, as you would expect, her husband Stefan (Tamás Keresztes) has a very different response when he learns of his grieving wife's decision.  

The situation is made all the more urgent by Stefan only hearing this news after Nora has attended the clinic to commence her transformation, and she has less than a day left before her human form is gone forever.  Stefan works as a psychologist, one whose work mainly involves getting patients (and those close to them) to accept what's coming as the fateful half-century approaches.  Yet all of Stefan's professional acumen goes out of the window when he's faced with Nora's imminent death, and in his denial he insists on finding a way to halt a process that is widely regarded as irreversible.  While Stefan fares particularly badly when it comes to taking the same advice he's been dishing out for years, he is at least able to use his standing to blag his way into the secure facility where Nora is being treated.

Via countless beautifully-rendered backgrounds, Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó have created a credible, immersive environment, one that is worryingly plausible given that humans are on a collision course with the natural world.  While one would hope that the planet will not be in this condition when it comes to the year 2123, White Plastic Sky is a speculative fiction that doesn't feel as outlandish as, well, virtually any 20th-century sci-fi movie did when first released; it is not so much that cinema has slowed down for us, but rather we who have rapidly moved closer to such predictions—and not in a good way.  The directors' decision to employ rotoscoping—that most divisive of animation styles—will either engage or alienate, depending on whether you view the technique as adding or removing a human layer; indeed, this existentialist eco-thriller raises many questions regarding both its form and content.        

Darren Arnold