VISITORS FROM THE GALAXY. Slavic Science Fiction with a Twist of Comedy

 Visitors from the Galaxy are thoroughly original.

Maciej Kaczmarski

4 May 2024

visitors from the galaxy

The eccentric starting point of this film somewhat resembles the lighter works of Philip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut, but Visitors from the Galaxy are thoroughly original.

Robert works as a porter in a hotel on the Yugoslavian Riviera. In his spare time, he attempts to write a science fiction novel about the inhabitants of a distant planet called Tugador in the Arkana galaxy – a female android named Andra, her children Targo and Ulu, and a monster named Mumu. While working on his book, Robert is disturbed by his girlfriend Biba, the neighboring photographer Toni, and other friends and relatives. One day, a female voice emerges from Robert’s dictaphone, instructing him to go to a nearby islet. There, the aspiring writer encounters the characters he invented from the alien planet. Convinced he’s losing his mind, Robert visits a psychiatrist who diagnoses him with telergy, a parapsychological ability to materialize his own thoughts. The doctor’s diagnosis is confirmed by subsequent events: soon, news of the aliens spreads around, attracting curious crowds to the islet – some with peaceful intentions, others aiming to destroy the Tugadorians. Meanwhile, Andra appears at Robert’s apartment, much to Biba’s displeasure; to make matters worse, Mumu starts wreaking havoc in the building.

Visitors from the Galaxy is a joint production of two now-defunct countries, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Behind the camera was Dušan Vukotić – a Yugoslavian illustrator, director, screenwriter, one of the founders of Zagreb Film Studio, and an Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film for “Ersatz” (1961). Vukotić co-wrote the script for Visitors… with Miloš Macourek – a Czech poet, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter responsible for films like “Who Wants to Kill Jessie?” (1966) by Václav Vorlíček, “The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians” (1981) directed by Oldřich Lipský, and the popular Czech television series “Arabela” (1980–81). The main roles were played by Žarko Potočnjak (Robert), Lucié Žulova (Biba), Ksenija Prohaska (Andra), Ljubiša Samardžić (Toni), and Rene Bitorajac (Targo); keen cinephiles may recognize the latter as Nino from the acclaimed drama “No Man’s Land” (2001) by Danis Tanović. The film was shot in Dubrovnik, and the monster Mumu was created by Jan Švankmajer, a Czech master of stop-motion animation. Visitors from the Galaxy premiered in Yugoslavian cinemas in the summer of 1981.

It’s easy to guess that Visitors from the Galaxy is a science fiction comedy, but no classification can do justice to Vukotić’s film. It starts off like a comedy of errors, only to reach much darker tones in the finale – including a bravura, seemingly Monty Python-esque sequence of a family gathering that quickly turns into a bloody massacre with multiple decapitations, limb detachments, and guests being burned alive. The perpetrator of the massacre is Mumu, initially a harmless creature (a blend of a cosmic elephant, an octopus, and something akin to characters from “Meet the Feebles” (1989) by Peter Jackson), fond of the scent of earthly flowers, who – quite rightfully – responds with murderous frenzy to attempts by terrified party-goers to kill him. The design and animation of Mumu are exceedingly well-executed (which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Jan Švankmajer’s involvement), as are the special effects and the appearance of the aliens; Andra is clearly inspired by Maria from “Metropolis” (1927) by Fritz Lang, and her fair-haired offspring are likely a nod to the children from “Village of the Damned” (1960) by Wolf Rilla.

Despite theatrical distribution and presence on the festival circuit, where Visitors garnered several awards (including in Porto, Trieste, Madrid, and Brussels), Vukotić’s film was virtually unknown outside of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia until 2023 when it was released on Blu-ray thanks to the efforts of the American company Deaf Crocodile specializing in such forgotten curiosities. This extravagant, crazy, surreal, and darkly humorous work deserves not to vanish into obscurity. Admittedly, Visitors… is far from perfect: at times, not much happens on screen, the plot accelerates and then slows down again, and the special effects – although undoubtedly impressive for the early ’80s – now feel a bit dated. However, the film compensates for these and other (minor) shortcomings with its lightness, creativity, humor, and adept play with the fantastical genre. Moreover, the creators managed to subtly weave in more serious themes, such as the potentially dangerous escape from real-life problems into the realm of imagination. For these reasons alone, it’s worth watching this astonishing film.