After his second film, ‘Diabel’ (1972), was banned in his native Poland, Andrzej Zulawski decided to relocate to France to continue his film-making career.
He went on to make ‘L’Important c’est d’aimer’ (1975) in France and enjoyed such critical success with this film that the Polish government felt it was embarrassing for an artist of such standing to be effectively exiled from his own country.
They invited him to return and gave him the freedom to work on any project he chose, without government interference.
Zulawski had long been interested in adapting a novel, ‘On the Silver Globe’ which was part of a trilogy of books written by his granduncle Jerzy Zulawski.
The story concerned a group of astronauts whose ship crashes on the dark side of the Moon.
After the crash only one adult survives as well as a group of children.
The children develop their own society based on shamanism and the worship of fire, they dub themselves ‘Selenites’ and the adult ‘The Old Man’ and both worship and revile him.
The Selenites find themselves in conflict with the Szerens, the Moons original inhabitants, while The Old Man removes himself from the group and goes to live in the mountains.
Here he records a video diary which he sends to Earth. A space researcher called Marek finds the diary and goes to the Moon. When he gets there he is greeted by the children as a messianic figure and the reincarnation of The Old Man who they believe will lead them to victory against the Szern.
From 1975 to 1977 Zulawski adapted the novel into a screenplay and began to film at various locations in Europe and Asia.
In the Autumn of 1977 the project came to a sudden halt with the appointment of Janusz Wilhelmi as the vice minister of Cultural Affairs in Poland.
Wilhelmi believed that the conflict between the Selenites and Szern in the film was a thinly-veiled allegory for the Polish peoples struggles with totalitarian Communist rule.
He ordered that the production be shut down and all the footage and related materials from the film to be destroyed.
Zulawski returned to France, despairing over the wasted time and effort he had put into the film and vowing never to work in Poland again.
Wilhelmi died a few months later in March of 1978 but it took the end of Communist rule in Poland eight years later for Zulawski to return to Poland and continue with the production of the film.
The footage, props and costumes that Wilhelmi had ordered to be destroyed were actually saved by the film studio and various members of the cast and crew.
However not enough was salvaged for Zulawski to complete the film the way he had intended.
Instead he edited together the footage he had and added a commentary to the film explaining what he had intended to do and filling in the narrative gaps.
This version ran at 166 minutes and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988.with some critics describing it as a ‘ruined masterpiece.’