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The Forgotten: Small Soldiers

A scientist is recruited for a sinister experiment in human miniaturization in this quirky Polish short.
I was doing some research into Incredible Shrinking Movies, as you do, when I stumbled upon Pierwszy pawilon, or First Pavilion, a curiously useless title for a miniaturization film. It's a 1968 Polish short made for television by director Janusz Majewksi, a fairly prolific director still at work today, or at least fairly recently (in his late eighties, he may be winding down for a well-earned rest).
My pleasure in this film and my disappointment may both be rooted in the fact that I started watching it not realizing that it's a short subject. I was thrilled by the speed and economy with which it got its story going: the hero, a scientist, is forcibly recruited by hired goons to participate in clandestine shrinkage experiments, and that's scene one.
The experiment is conducted in a stark, warehouse-like space in which a miniature barracks houses a troop of tiny soldiers who, alarmingly, don't know they're only an inch tall. Only their commander is in on the gag. They each go into a shower cubicle and the chief scientist shrinks both them and the cubicle together without their knowledge, and releases them into their new home without telling them of their newly reduced state. Our hero is horrified by all this! (And this viewer was too, especially by the Auschwitz-like detail of the deceptive shower.)
The protagonist rightly suspects he's in the clutches of gangsters (though, watching from outside the communist sphere of influence, we suspect they could equally well be representatives of the state). The head shrinker (sorry!) is motivated by altruistic concerns, though: like the tiny people of Alexander Payne's Downsizing, or like the ever-diminishing Chinese population in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slapstick, he's trying to preserve resources by making everyone small. That wheel of cheese in your fridge will last much longer once it's the size of your torso.
The story progresses swiftly and certainly, and the hero is soon threatened with tininess himself. The special effects are extremely simple but charming and totally effective. See how the shrinking booth diminishes before our very eyes without any post-production trickery whatsoever:
They simply build a wall they can wheel away from the lens so it seems to get smaller.
The disappointment comes when suddenly its all over, the deeper problems unresolved, an "it was all a dream" wrap-up that's simply infuriating, and then a surprise twist whereby the story is all going to start all over again—"This is where we came in!"—which doesn't make any sense and attempts to enlist the satisfying loop-structure used in many other film successfully, but irrelevant to the story this one has been telling.
But it's delightful until then! Also it has some nice Polish jazz, a bit like the stuff you hear by Komeda in early Polanski.
***
The Forgotten is a regular fortnightly column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

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