The Suns of Easter Island/Les soleils de l’île de Pâques (1972)

‘You know, for some time, I’ve had moments of telepathy.’

Six strangers in different parts of the world experience strange visions and wake to find a silver circle embedded in the palm of their hand. Subsequently, they are drawn to meet on Easter Island to fulfil an unusual destiny…

Curious science-fiction piece from writer-director Pierre Kast, influenced by the ‘ancient astronaut’ theories of author Robert Charroux. An unusual co-production between France, Brazil and Chile, it features a multi-national cast and some memorable locations.

Physicist Maurice (Maurice Garrel) is experimenting with harnessing solar energy, while, continents away, astronomer Norma (Norma Bengell) is trying to correlate the position of ancient temple statues to a star map. Wealthy horse breeder Alexandra (Alexandra Stewart) has mediumistic abilities and is intrigued by the pictographs carved into stone hills near her home. Entomologist Marcello (Marcello Romo) is working near Valparaiso while ehtnologist Françoise (Françoise Brion) is carrying out research on the islands of Polynesia. Helvio (Zózimo Bulbul) is a student who practises the Brazilian folk religion of Macumba. All have sudden visions that are a mixture of humanity’s history of armed conflict and the statues on Easter Island. All wake up with a small silver dot imprinted on the palm of one hand.

Bringing their scientific expertise and spiritual beliefs to bear, each tries to decode the message behind their experience, Stewart assisted by her psychoanalyst boyfriend Alain (Jacques Charrier). As the days pass, she develops limited psychic abilities, such as telepathy and psychokinesis. However, she also feels a compulsion to go to Easter Island and to be there on a specific day late in the month of May. The other recipients of the visions share this compulsion, and, as they journey to their destination, they begin to meet, get acquainted and realise that all six of them are part of something of cosmic significance.

Robert Charroux was a French author who began writing science-fiction in the 1940s but became known for his theories regarding ancient astronauts. His book ‘One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History’ was first published in 1963 and was arguably a direct influence on the work of author Erich von Däniken. The latter’s ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ published five years later, took these theories into the mainstream. Although never accepted by the respected scientific community and thoroughly debunked since these theories of extraterrestrial visitations in humanity’s remote past were a global sensation in the 1970s. They elevated von Däniken to the status of a household name in many parts of the world.

Unfortunately, Kast seems determined to validate these theories with his film, sacrificing all drama, action, tension and character for attempted realism. However, there’s a constant clash between the almost documentary feel and the fantastical elements that result in a dull, plodding experience instead of the sense of wonder and possibilities that Kast probably intended. This is neatly encapsulated by the opening scenes where physicist Garrel claims to be descended from a long line of sorcerers and alchemists and uses geomancy to decode his supernatural vision. This method relies on the interpretation of random numbers of pen scratches made on a page and is linked to astrology. I don’t think too many top physicists use it. The visions are a mixture of basic animation and a series of still images flashing quickly across the screen. These show violence at civil protests, soldiers, tanks and battle casualties, which include dead children.

Garrel also adopts the role of ‘VoiceOver Man’, an assignment he carries out with some enthusiasm, in the end narrating a great deal of the film, including the climax! Inevitably, the audience is left feeling like they’ve attended a lecture rather than watched a movie, an impression heightened by the film’s lack of action. Broadly speaking, each of the six protagonists is introduced, has their vision, chats about it with a friend, colleague or loved one, and then uses some aspect of their scientific expertise or spiritual beliefs to decode it and head for Easter Island. However, given that all these visions feature Rapa Nui’s famous monolithic figures quite prominently, it’s hard not to conclude that everyone could have saved time and just bought a plane ticket instead.

When the group assemble and reach Easter Island, there is about half an hour of the film remaining. Once there, they wander about a bit and indulge in listless conversations for a quarter of an hour until something finally happens. These climactic events involve everyone sitting around in a dark cave and a lot of holding hands. This might be vaguely interesting if the cast could inject some life into the proceedings. Unfortunately, all their roles are severely underwritten, with each defined mainly by their particular scientific expertise, none of which is directly relevant to the development of the story. Stewart manages to bring some personality to the table, perhaps because she’s the only one not playing an actual scientist, but her mediumistic skills and psychic powers are ultimately pointless.

However, there is one place where Kast’s film scores a bullseye, even though it would have been impossible to miss the target. It’s the location work. The statues on Easter Island have intrigued the world since Europeans first visited its shores in 1722. There have been many theories about their purpose and significance, although most modern scholars believe them to have religious and spiritual meanings. Their unique appearance and the unclear methods behind their creation led von Däniken to assign them an extraterrestrial origin. Nevertheless, placing cast members next to them makes for some wonderful images, evoking the sense of awe and possibility that the film strives for throughout but fails to approach elsewhere.

It’s interesting to note that Kast was originally a documentary filmmaker whose work in features mainly came at the end of his almost 40-year career. His work seems to have made little impact outside his homeland. As per the film’s origins, the cast was multi-national; Bengell and Bulbul were born in Brazil; Brion, Charrier, and Garrel were French, and Stewart was a Canadian. Most of them enjoyed long and successful screen careers, and Brion and Stewart are still gainfully employed at the time of writing. The same is true of von Däniken. ‘Confessions of an Egyptologist: Lost Libraries, Vanished Labyrinths & the Astonishing Truth Under the Saqqara Pyramids’ was published in 2021.

Very much a product of its time and of interest only in that regard.

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