33 sceny z życia aka I do watch Polish films sometimes ;)


33 sceny z życia (Poland/Germany, 2008)

Seen: Saturday, 3rd January 2009 (cinema)
Runtime: 100′
Polish Distributor: Kino Świat (7th November 2008)
Director: Małgorzata Szumowska
Cast: Julia Jentsch, Peter Gantzler, Maciej Stuhr, Małgorzata Hajewska, Andrzej Hudziak, Izabela Kuna
Production House: Shot - Szumowski, Pandora Filmproduktion, STI Studio Filmowe
Plot: A slightly autobiographical film. It’s mostly about what death does to a family, all the tensions and minor details of it - the hospitals, choosing the right clothes for the coffin and so on.


Impressions In Short
I neither particularly liked it, nor did I particularly dislike it. It was ok I guess *shrugs* I think I understand why Polish critics are raving about it - in Polish context I felt this was pretty high standard, but IMO in international context it was nothing special.

Some Details
The film is generally quite disjointed, but that was the intention. It’s kind of just these “random” scenes from life.
Perhaps one of the reasons I couldn’t quite get into it was that for me the world in it was a little foreign. I mean I know that world of people exists in Poland, but I’ve only been on its outskirts really, very rarely have I entered it. So I guess the way the characters relate to each other is a little unnatural to me (even though I know some people *do* relate to each other that way ;) ). Plus I guess my way of living is pretty introverted anyway, so in some ways the reactions to death that me (or my mum for that matter) have are completely different to what was in the film.
Something I totally wasn’t sold on was the acting - which should be the backbone of this sort of filmmaking style. Not that it was bad (at least certainly not in Polish standards ;-P), but I had the same problem I usually have with Polish films… Even when the actors don’t go over the top and don’t look that staged (something that used to happen a lot in Polish films, perhaps a little less now), I have a very heightened awareness that the people I’m seeing on screen are on a film set, they know exactly where the camera is, there are other people in the room that we’re not seeing on screen etc. I don’t mean to say this is a specifically Polish problem (it’s not), but it is a major reason why I tend to avoid watching a lot of Polish cinema. Most of my reviews concentrate on the actors (and even the reasons I choose to see films often have something to do with acting :]), so you can see why that might be a major put off for me ;)
To be fair, there were some moments in this film where I had this “film set awareness” less or even not at all (like Maciej Stuhr’s expression in the scene that Equus mentioned in his review - I liked that moment a lot too :)). But for the most part I had that feeling a lot, which kind of ruins a film that tends to concentrate on the smaller details of life.
The moments when I felt the “filmsetness” the most were the ones where the characters were somehow intimate with each other (not necessarily sexually, although mostly that’s what I mean). The one exception was probably the already mentioned Maciej Stuhr moment (I don’t want to spoil it - you can check it out on Equus’s blog ;-P), which is actually very intimate though in a slightly strange way.
The scene that particularly bothered me was the nude, bathroom one (the girl’s mother has died, she’s lying in bed with her husband and wants to talk, but he’s sleeping or pretending to, so she ends up going to the bathroom and phoning up somebody else to talk and that seems to wake the husband so he goes to the bathroom to pee). I didn’t get why the nudity was necessary. It seemed kind of out of place actually. Not that I mind gratuitous nudity or anything, but it does tend to have this “eeek, look at the screen, they’re nude!” kind of effect and if you don’t have a good reason to put it there then it can take you out of the action. It looked like the actors felt that way too (like “Oh my gosh, I’m nude and there’s a camera in front of me - I need to give it a glimpse of my but as I go to the bathroom and a frontal view as I go back to bed, but hmmm this feels weird…” ;) ). The nude scene seemed to stick out like a sore thumb to Equus too, so it’s not just me I think :]
One final word on the film… I found it pretty weird that the director chose to take a German and a Danish actor for really major parts in a Polish language film. It meant they had to be dubbed over by Polish actors (the dubbing was good, mind you, I only consciously noticed something was fishy in one scene, but assumed it was something to do with badly synced sound or something). I think they probably were speaking Polish (the lip movements looked right), but the accents were such that they couldn’t leave the real voices in. But why on Earth do that? *puzzled* I don’t think young Polish actors are so bad that one has to resort to this kind of thing and you have to use Polish speaking actors for the voices anyway, so what’s the point? lol Even the whole “filmsetness” problem isn’t entirely the actors’ fault I think. A lot of how the actor feels (which the camera then captures) depends on the director and general mood on the set. And anyway, I felt the same way about the German and Danish actors, so even if the director has the same problems with Polish acting as I do, she did not manage to rectify them in this way ;-P

Humph… I don’t know… I guess it depends on why you want to watch it.
If you’re going to judge it by international standards then I think you won’t enjoy it much unless maybe you’re watching it in film festival context where a lot of films will be on that sort of level (at least I think there’s usually just a few pearls at film festivals and the rest is very average). But if you’re going to judge it by Polish standards, it might be well worth the time…

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