In 1975, following the international success of his Romy Schneider starrer “That Most Important Thing: Love,” helmer Andrzej Żuławski returned to Poland. He was supposed to deliver the biggest spectacle in its history with science fiction epic “On the Silver Globe.” Based on “The Lunar Trilogy” written by his great-grandfather, Jerzy, it saw a group of astronauts leave Earth, only to crash on another planet. Years later, another astronaut arrives and is welcomed as a god. The project was interrupted in 1977, due to the decision by Deputy Minister of Culture Janusz Wilhelmi.
“To any cinephile, there is nothing more exciting than an unfinished or unmade film,” says director Kuba Mikurda, now exploring its tragic backstory in “Escape to the Silver Globe” (Ucieczka na Srebrny Glob), world premiering at Millennium Docs Against Gravity and produced by Silver Frame’s Daria Maślona and Stanisław Zaborowski.
“Everyone had a theory. Some said it was just too subversive, others blamed its religious content. To me, it was a display of power by the new minister. He knew that if he would ‘hit’ this film, everyone would take notice. Interestingly enough, there are those who claim that Żuławski was relieved by it.”
Żuławski, who passed away in 2016, came back to the film in 1987. Instead of completing it, he added scenes summarizing what was never shot.
“That solution seems brilliant to me in a way. It’s an exhibition about a film that could have been, with its director serving as a guide,” says Mikurda, adding that if completed on time, “On the Silver Globe” could have joined the ranks of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” or “Solaris.”
“In all likelihood, it wouldn’t be the kind of box-office success the authorities were hoping for. It wouldn’t be ‘Star Wars.’ But when you are watching it today, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t influenced Ridley Scott when he was making ‘Alien’ or George Miller when he was making ‘Mad Max.’ It’s one of the first science fiction films where future already has a past. It’s all worn out, destroyed,” he says.
Żuławski kept referencing Kubrick in the film, says Mikurda. He also shared his reputation for being difficult to work with, pushing his crew to the breaking point.
“You could compare it to what happened on the set of ‘Apocalypse Now.’ They created their own isolated universe, ready to do anything for their leader, and life on set started to mimic the movie.”
The crew was happy to share some secrets, from Żuławski’s decision to “borrow” a hand from a medical school to convincingly show the main character’s crucifixion to his anger at a ruined shot, interrupted because one of the actors actually caught on fire.
“He was furious – the guy was burning so nicely. His crew went from falling in love with this project to some strange place where you allow yourself to go to extremes. It still lives on in their minds. Someone told me that after this film, nothing was interesting anymore,” he says.
Mikurda, who talked about another Polish enfant terrible in his previous documentary, “Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk,” decided to take a more personal route this time, including interviews with Żuławski’s son Xavery and analysing the repercussions of his divorce from actress Małgorzata Braunek. The breakup also inspired his following film “Possession” with Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani.
“He kept coming back to this relationship, or the later relationship with Sophie Marceau. ‘On the Silver Globe’ shows a pivotal moment in his career when certain things were settled once and for all. Nothing was the same after that.”