SSAKI (Roman Polanski, 1962)

Co-written by Andrzej Kondratiuk, Roman Polanski’s beauteous comical silent Mammals, ten minutes long, crosses Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Polanski’s own The Fat and the Lean (1961), tossing in another Absurdist inspiration, the myth of Sisyphus, as well as a brief parody of Maciek’s lumbering animal death in Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958). Rest assured, however: Nobody dies here; two nobodies just go on and on.
     An expanse of snow-covered ground accomplishes at least three things. It ensures humanistic rigor because the two principal “mammals,” specifically, humans, qualify as the compound “figure” and the snow as the undifferentiated “ground.” (Two qualifications: in the opening shot, there are trees in the distant background; in another shot, or perhaps sequence of shots, there is a sharp edge between covered and uncovered ground.) Also, the snow blots out reference points, making the two lead characters perpetually lost. This in turn makes their movement across the snow, where they seem to possess destination, a reflection on how humans set about definite courses and directions in defiance and denial of just how “lost” they are or feel themselves to be. Moreover, the wintry landscape implies that what exists of human life plays out in the shadow of mortality, knowledge of which is a constant burden. It is delicious that the “shadow” here is sheer white.
     With a single small sleigh between them, the two protagonists trade off pulling and being pulled. When they lose their sleigh (it is stolen as they fight), piggyback riding replaces it, or they simply walk. And they fight. Their tussling leads to a contest where each tries to outbandage the other. One succeeds completely, turning himself (against the snow) into the invisible man. Except to us, of course, both are anonymous, invisible, pointless. Us.

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