SIFF 2022 Review: 2551.01

Year: 2022

Runtime: 65 minutes

Director: Norbert Pfaffenbichler

Writer: Norbert Pfaffenbichler

Cast: Stefan Erber, David Ionescu

By Joan Amenn

This film is a strange amalgamation of dystopian horror, Grand Guignol and a homage to Charlie Chaplin. If experimental film is your thing, you may find “2551.01” (2022) a fascinatingly phantasmagoric ride. If not, the film may just frustrate with its hallucinatory images and lack of dialog. This is how Chaplin is referenced because the plot is very loosely based on his film, “The Kid” (1921) in which Charlie finds himself reluctantly responsible for a child.

In “2551.01”, which possibly is a notation of a date in the future, a nameless man grabs a child out of harm’s way and then wanders the subterranean tunnels of his world carrying him. All of the members of the film’s cast wear grotesque masks, even the children. They are all nameless and interact in pantomime, much like a silent film of the 1920’s but at least those frequently had title cards. In “2551.01” we are given to understand that humanity exists underground with a threatening police/militia force hunting for those they consider “terrorists”, as seen by the wanted posters displayed on the decaying walls. There are also many posters begging for help in finding the missing, but since they all display people wearing masks it is unclear how anyone could be found for certain.

Amidst this grim backdrop, the man and his new responsibility are seen in various scenarios that suggest there may be some form of comfort in all this darkness. Director Norbert Pfaffenbichler does not provide any comic relief however, despite describing the film as a “dystopian slapstick.” There is a tinny piano playing when the man and the child saunter down the corridors a la Chaplin, but comedy needs more than just a pastiche. Humor is as hard to come by in this nightmarish future as food and light. Although “2551.01” is labeled as “Chapter 1” and references a potential upcoming sequel, there is enough of a plot to create a suitable resolution to the film and many viewers might be more than satisfied to leave it at that.  

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