Director/Screenplay – Juliusz Machulski, With the Collaboration of Pavel Hajny & Jolanta Hartwig, Producer – Andrzej Soltysik, Photography – Jerzy Tukaszewicz, Music – Henryk Kuzniak, Makeup – Krystyna Chmielewska & Teresa Tomaszewska, Production Design – Janusz Sosnowski. Production Company – Zespoty Filowny Kadr.
Jerzy Stuhr (Maksymilian Paradys), Olgierd Tukaszewicz (Albert Starski), Bozena Stryjkowna (Lamia), Bogustawa Pawelec (Emma Dax), Wieslaw Michnikowski (Her Excellency), Hanna Stankowna (Tekla), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Berna), Ryszarda Hanin (Dr Yanda), Janusz Michatowski (Professor Victor Kuppelweiser), Dorota Stalinska (Reporter)
In 1991, Maksymilian Paradys and Albert Starski are chosen by Professor Kuppelweiser as subjects in an experiment where they will be cryogenically frozen for three years and then reawakened. However, when Maks and Albert are revived they learn that it is now the year 2044. Moreover, they are surrounded by women and told how all men were killed off after Professor Kuppelweiser accidentally unleashed the M Bomb. This has also made the surface uninhabitable and forced the women to live underground where they have learned to reproduce by parthenogenesis. The woman are divided about what to do with the men – eliminate them or renaturalise them as women. Meanwhile, the two men start to have an effect on the women after introducing them to kisses.
Sex Mission – or Sexmission, which is how the Polish title directly translates – is a film I had heard about for many years. It was apparently a massive success in Poland when it came out, as well as various other Soviet countries of the Eastern bloc, although it only played some festivals outside of Eastern Europe.
Sex Mission was the second film for Polish director Juliusz Machulski. His first was the popular heist comedy Vabank/Hit the Bank (1981) and he subsequently went on to make a number of comedies usually in the crime vein. He has returned to genre material on several occasions with King Size (1988) about inhabitants emerged from a kingdom of dwarfs; How Much Does the Trojan Horse Weigh? (2008) about a woman who goes back in time to the 1980s; Lullaby (2010), a dark comedy about a vampire family; and Embassy (2013) about a time-travelling elevator.
Sex Mission is a variant on the Cryogenic Sleeper Awakes plot (see my essay Films About Cryogenics and Suspended Animation for a more detailed discussion of other films). The theme was started by H.G. Wells with his story The Sleeper Awakes (1899) about a man woken to find a radically different future to the world he left behind. There have been a number of variations on this plot since and most of them have been satires and/or comedies – see the likes of Planet of the Apes (1968), Sleeper (1973) Demolition Man (1993) and Idiocracy (2006).
There are two ways to view Sex Mission. One is as a Satire or comedy on the sexes. What apparently made the film popular with audiences in Poland was its Dystopian Future being read by Polish audiences as an allegory about the Communist regime. Thus the two guys are falling afoul less of a world run by women than they are of a bungling state that comes down on their individuality with a heavy hand. (I am not Polish, have no translated reviews from the time so I making guesses here as to what allegorical meaning the audiences saw – this is the one that seems obvious to me).
The other way to view the film is as one about the war of the sexes. There was a fad for films during the 1950s where astronauts travel to other planets and encounter all-women societies and proceed to show them some good lovin’ – see the likes of Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Cat Women of the Moon (1953) and Queen of Outer Space (1958), among others. Now I don’t know to what extent the Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s and feminism of the early 1980s made its way across to Poland. However, it feels as though nothing has really changed since the 1950s and what we have is a film that plays into the same underlying (sexist) idea behind many of these outer space sex fantasies – that all that these women who have discovered the silly idea of running things for themselves need to be shown is the love of a good, red blooded man.
To this extent, there are some scenes that make for embarrassing watching in 2021 in an era that is post #MeToo, post Woke politics, post elevated discussion on issues of consent. There are several scenes where the two men – Jerzy Stuhr principally – force kisses on the women and the only response from them seems to be not a slap in the face or shock but that this seems to short circuit on the women’s brains, leaving them emotionally befuddled and turned on. At another point, Jerzy Stuhr addresses a woman “Calm down or I’ll spank you.” I am not sure if it was a quirk of the sometimes erratic subtitles or one could get away with that in Poland in 1984 but today outside of any BDSM circle or humorous context, he’d likely get a punch in the face from said woman.
I didn’t particularly hate Sex Mission; on the other hand, there was a shortage of laugh-out-loud moments either. It may be that my tastes in comedy and those of Poland in the 1980s run to very different things. Much of the comedy scenes involve the two guys running around the complex where the music is gaudily comedic accompanied by whistles, which usually signals slapstick.
Full film available here (no subs)