Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 6:12 pm 
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Tame craziness

This Polish film is actually a true story. It recounts the lives and deaths of a family of three. First is the highly respected painter Zdzislaw Beksinski (Andrzej Seweryn) - and the works on view in their digs, of which there are many, look very interesting though, perhaps for copyright reasons, we never get a very close look. Second, there is his strange but talented son Tomok, or Tomasz (Dawid Ogrodnik, of Ida), who became a well known music critic, translator, and radio broadcaster. Spoiler alert: things do not end well for either of them. In the middle, a patient, stabilizing element, is the wife and mother, Zofia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who surprises Beksinski by predeceasing him due to a fatal heart condition. The movie takes us along with this trio for about 25 years. Most of the action transpires in the artist's and his son's apartments. They are located in one of those looming blocks of flats surrounded by empty space we know so well from Krzysztof Kieślowski's masterful Dekalog.

The film charms initially with its intelligence and its composure. Tomok, obviously, is a strange and maladjusted personality. There is a funny, yet troubling scene in which he sits talking to a bearded, pipe-puffing psychiatrist, begging him to say something. He needs help, but doesn't get it. He seems dangerous, but his father is never worried. It isn't indifference: it's a close-nit family, and an indulgent one for Tomok - but that may be the problem. Later in life he wishes that his father had punished him, even once, to give him a sense of structure. He has been indulged, and ignored, and on his own, he does not fare well.

One of the film's problems is figuring out whether it's about Tomok or his father. There is much about interviews with the painter, who expresses many views, and a sense of the stylistic periods he goes through is provided. But the crises all come from Tomok. It is a continual surprise that Tomok becomes successful at things - though hardly with women, a field in which he is a very late and spotty developer. Or with acceptance of life, since he is constantly thinking of ending his.

The sets are characters. The artist has a great collection of records, books, and tapes; he is always taking pictures, first with a 35mm camera, later with a video recorder, a large, solid, dark one, that looks like a small artillery weapon. How neatly his collections are arrayed along the walls, with his paintings! And Zofia has her collection of the paintings, and Tomok, who moves into his own place, has a larger, and an eager collector things, better, collection (he wants to buy it; neither wife nor son will do so). Tomok's collections are a little different. He has more records, more tapes, more videos. When he brings a woman in on a date, she wants to make out; he wants to show her his collections. They are his life; which is to say, in a sense, that he has no life.

These three people are famous, and interviewed and written about, but they have no social life, and this makes the action seem a little hollow. The film is also too caught up in the details of the lives, and never quite gets around to organizing them into a movie with dramatic highlights that would grab non-Polish viewers not acquainted already with this family's biography. When the artist finds his son lying dead in his apartment, he says "Congratulations, you finally succeeded." Is it surprising that we feel no more involvement, if the father's reaction is so cold?

The film was scripted by Robert Bolesto, who also recently penned the surreal horror version of "The Little Mermaid," The Lure.

The Last Family/Ostatnia rodzina, 124 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2016, and opened theatrically in Poland a month later; also showed at a dozen international festivals, including the Film Society of Lincoln Center-MoMA 2017 New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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