Now entering its fourth year, the Ekran Toronto Polish Film Festival showcases some of the best features, shorts, and new media from Poland or featuring a distinctly Polish view of multiculturalism. The not-for-profit festival kicks off this Thursday, October 25th at the historic Revue Cinema (running through Sunday the 28th) with the help of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto and includes a series of free screenings and workshops emanating from the Runnymede Library in addition to the big opening night reception at Innis Town Hall.
We were able to take a look at a small selection of films from this year’s festival to share our thoughts, but for more information, tickets, and a full list of screenings and programmes, please visit ekran.ca.
Fear of Falling
Tomek’s life is sweet – he’s a rising star at his job, and he and his wife are expecting a baby. But his ageing father is taking a turn for the violent as his mental health becomes more and more difficult to manage. Tomek, it seems, is the only one able to help, but first he must confront both his father’s condition and the possibility that he himself might follow the same path.
Marcin Dorocinski and Krysztof Stroinski deliver powerful performances as son and father navigating changing life stages and new challenges. The chemistry between the two is excellent, making Tomek’s need to understand his father before he understands himself all the more touching and important. (Jenna Hossack)
Screens: Saturday, October 27th, 7:00pm, Revue Cinema
Letters to Santa
The similarities between Mitja Orkon’s Letters to Santa and Richard Curtis’ Love Actually are astounding. The stories are essentially different, but it’s almost beat for beat the exact same film as British writer-director Curtis’ sprawling, overlapping stories of love and family during the holidays. It might as well just have its obvious inspiration’s title with the number 2 following it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film. Those who love this sort of film will have their hearts warmed, and there’s definite good will and joy up on the screen. It’s also a whole lot better than any of the holiday themed knock offs Garry Marshall cranks out.
Everything goes down on Christmas Eve. There’s an orphaned girl travelling with a business man on the lookout for a home for the holidays. There’s a single father radio DJ, whose hard ass boss (who happens to be the wife of the business man) won’t let him have Christmas Eve off. There’s an aspiring actress working as a department store elf who bemoans how the holidays are nothing like the movies she grew up idolizing. That woman works with a loutish Bad Santa type who had his phone stolen by the kid next door to the house where he was banging a married woman. That woman and her husband are on their way out of town, not saying anything about the obvious, while their teenage goth daughter fights for attention from them and has grown sick of their fighting.
In short, it’s everything one would expect from a sequel to Love Actually to the point where it delivers almost the exact same emotions by the end. While the story of the DJ and his son resonates the most and feels genuinely heartwarming, it plays out and is shot by Orkon to almost exactly mimic Liam Neeson’s character arc from Curtis’ film. It’s unabashedly a rip off in many ways, but it still manages genuine stories. Also, it tries to replicate the megabudget soundtrack of Curtis’ film on a lower budget. All I have to say about that is that you better love Dionne Warwick’s version of “What the World Needs Now” and IZ’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a lot. And I do mean A LOT. (Andrew Parker)
Screens: Saturday, October 27th, 12:00pm, Revue Cinema
Promotions are supposed to be great, and at first for Halina, becoming manager of the supermarket where she works certainly is. But the extra money soon means little as Halina discovers the corruption and mistreatment endemic to upper management in the company. Her work begins to interfere with her relationship to her teenage daughter, and she’s forced to make decisions that hurt herself and her staff, culminating in a tragedy and her own dismissal. From there the film becomes a battle cry for labour rights and women standing together against injustice.
Katarzyna Kwiatkowska is lovely as Halina, her confidence crumbling as she begins to understand the scope of the problems she’s facing. Julia Czuraj also shines as Halina’s daughter, an expert World of Warcraft player and metalhead whose relationship to her mother can only improve when Halina becomes more true to herself. The film takes a while to build up to the ultimate showdown in court, but once it does the payoff is sweet. (Jenna Hossack)
Screens: Saturday, October 27th, 3:00pm, Revue Cinema
The Suicide Room
Living up to it’s not-so-cheery title, The Suicide Room takes on a number of hotbed topics like cyber-bullying and teen suicide and weaves them into somewhat of a fantasy tale for teenagers that at least has it’s heart in the right place. Polish teen Dominik has rich parents, dates the prettiest girl in school, and seems to have everything going for him, until a prom night dare sees him kiss a male classmate only to have the video pop up online and lead to a severe round of bullying. With his self-absorbed parents too disinterested to sympathize, Dominik turns to the internet for support and quickly discovers a secret 2nd Life online community run by a pink haired girl named Sylwia called (you guessed it) The Suicide Room. She acts as a cult leader for a collection of depressed teens, encouraging her followers to distance themselves from society and suggests a lovelorn suicide pact for herself and Dominik. Quickly Dominik stops leaving his room for days at a time and lives entirely online. His parents get concerned and start consulting psychiatrists, but it’s all too little too late.
Writer/director Jan Komasa clearly has a personal connection to this material and tells the story with as much honesty and style as possible. He gets a remarkable performance from youngster Jakub Gierszal as the star and there’s no denying the directors skill with a camera or the devastating emotional impact of the story or central performance. Unfortunately, despite everything that Komasa does right, there are some fairly major missteps. The online sequences have believable CGI graphics for such a game, but can feel a little cheep and slight as by current big screen standards. Also, Dominik’s mother and father are almost comically neglectful and not particularly believable deadbeat parents. Given the subject matter, those two flaws are impossible to ignore, but what Gierszal gets right is good enough for the film to work. It’s a strong and effective piece for any dejected youth who can forgive a little movie cheese. Too bad that’s also a group that doesn’t tend to seek out subtitled movies, because this one would be worth the effort. (Phil Brown)
Screens: Friday October 26, 7:00pm, Revue Cinema
Crulic: Path to the Beyond
Claudiu Crulic, a Romanian living in Poland, was arrested in 2007 for the theft of a wallet and held for months despite his efforts to prove his innocence. He went on a four-month hunger strike, and the ensuing legal and human rights clusterfuck is the subject of this brilliant documentary.
A Romanian/Polish co-production, the film is completely animated, merging different styles of drawing with photographs from Crulic’s life. Narrators give voice to the late subject, and to information Crulic wouldn’t have had, the former speaking less and less as he succumbs to malnutrition and infection. Together with the animation, it conveys Crulic’s fear, hope and despair far more convincingly than standard documentary techniques. The first half is alternately funny and sad as “Claudiu” (the narrator) describes his upbringing and move to Poland, and the people he left behind, making the second half and his death even more painful.
It’s an emotional, touching film that provokes questions about human rights and immigration in Eastern Europe, a region still struggling to prove its place in the European Union and the modern world. Damian spent two years researching and working on the film, and through her Polish producers, had unprecedented access to the case files. This commitment to the story, brought back to reality with television footage shown during the credits, really shines throughout the film. (Jenna Hossack)
Screens: Friday, October 26th, 9:30pm, Revue Cinema
In the Bedroom
No, this one isn’t a remake of the 2001 Todd Field family drama, but rather a low key, observational look at a homeless woman in her 30s that bounces between online dating scenarios in search of finding unwitting dupes she can drug to steal from. Her world gets turned upside down, however, when she meets a man that might be showing a genuine emotional interest in her beyond just having a sexual relationship.
Writer and director Tomasz Wasilewski keeps things almost maddeningly low key despite showing a great sense of pacing and a keen visual sense. It’s almost impossible to connect to any of the characters since nothing is really made known of them throughout the film. It’s like literally getting plunked into the middle of an ongoing struggle, devoid of any context, for a scant 70 minutes before getting yanked out again. It would make a great short film, but stretched to feature length there’s definitely more padding than any sort of dramatic or artistic development here. (Andrew Parker)
Screens: Sunday, October 28th, 6:30pm, Revue Cinema
A post-World War II drama about a peasant and a soldier finding grace and comfort in each other while the region around them falls apart. Rose is set in the region of Masuria, which has flipped from Germany to Poland after the war. Aside from rebuilding their shattered towns and farms, residents must also prove their Polishness, lest they be deported to Germany, despite the unique culture of the area.
The performances are quiet studies that linger after the film’s end. Tadeusz’s fight for the little bit of happiness he and Roza have carved out on her farm is compelling and sweet, exposing the bureaucratic and social challenges of post-war reconstruction at the same time. (Jenna Hossack)
Screens: Saturday, October 27th, 5:00pm, Revue Cinema
Now here’s a weird movie to say the least. Writer/director Przemyslaw Wojcieszek’s latest film is about a gender-bending performance artist (Tomasz Tyndyk) who visits his grandfather Jan (Marek Kepinski) for a vacation in the woods in which the artist intends to get gramps to spill his guts about killing a Jewish man and his son at the end of World War 2 to save his house. Ok, so the plot alone would make for an odd movie, but that’s far from the only risky conceit Wojcieszek attempts with the project. The film is also a wild visual experiment told mostly evocative visuals and long passages of deliberate silence.
Tyndyk holds together the film admirably, grounding even the director’s most wildly unhinged sequences with a strong, steadying performance routed in genuine pain. That’s a vital connection for the audience in a film that spends more time toying around with abstract visuals and stylized music video montages than it does storytelling. Wojcieszek employs whiplash ending to thrust the audience from vibrant, quick cut footage of Tyndyk’s performance art with jittery documentary-inspired observations of mundane moments between the two protagonists. The presence of Tyndyk’s Jewish agent (Agnieszka Podsiadlik) complicates the rounds of truth-telling painfully pried from the elderly man, with some genuinely touching moments of connection slotted in along the way. For a movie primarily defined by bizarre digressions, naked chases through the woods, and long silences, the director finds a surprisingly emotional human core amidst the constant experimentation. It’s still a project that will alienate audiences expecting something that even faintly resembles a conventional movie, but at least the filmmakers strived for more than art school naval gazing. (Phil Brown)
Screens: Saturday, October 27, 9:00pm, Revue Cinema
Lose to Win
If Polish television has an equivalent to the U.S.’s Lifetime network, this film would be a hit there. Lose to Win is the true story of Agata Mroz, the star of Poland’s national women’s volleyball team and a two-time European champion at the sport, is lively, engaging and attractive – and also needs a bone marrow transplant. While waiting for a donor, she falls in love, gets married, and gets pregnant, deciding to postpone the transplant in order to have the baby, despite the health risks.
The acting is pretty terrible and the poor writing doesn’t help. Even allowing for what might be lost in translation, the script is saccharine and cheesy, backed by an awful score that overstates the obvious in each scene. This is Plutecka-Mesjasz’s first feature and it shows, with amateurish direction and editing. I’m almost glad Agata Mroz isn’t around to see it. (Jenna Hossack)
Screens: Sunday, October 28th, 4:00pm, Revue Cinema