Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 5:09 pm 
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Dark, very dark, almost black

The Polish director, who has not made a film in 17 years, appeared in Croenberg's Eastern Promises as Naomi Watts's racist uncle. His return to the helm is a small, literally very dark, austere and highly assured film about Leon (the excellent Artur Steranko), a lonely, decent man whose shyness and lack of socialization lead him to voyeurism. Living near the hospital crematorium that it's his job to tend--we see him toss a severed hand into the furnace--he becomes obsessed with Anna (Kinga Preis), a blond nurse, very much in one piece, who lives across a muddy field from him.

It turns out that Leon has done jail time. He now cares for an aged grandmother who raised him. One day he witnesses Anna being raped. He approaches close but can do nothing. Later he stammeringly reports this to the police, a mistake, because he ultimately becomes the only suspect.

For the most part Leon appears to be a night person. He looks through a chink in his wall (later he installs a picture window) through one eye of a pair of binoculars as Anna prepares for bed. After his grandmother dies, he uses her sleeping drafts to drug Anna's tea, and on four separate occasions successfully sneaks into her bedroom, paints her toenails, pets her cat, and himself entering dressed up and drunk after she's had an evening of birthday revelry in her room with a noisy handful of friends, clumsily tries to put a diamond ring he's bought on her finger, tenderly nuzzles her pillow, puts a cover over her on the bed where she sleeps, dozes off under her bed and has nightmares.

These sequences are a skillful collaboration between Skolinowski and Steranko and cameraman Adam Sikora. At times the scene is almost total darkness, but several wide landscape shots are beautiful and unique. The style resembles Bela Tarr, or the black drollery of Swedish director Roy Andersson, but J. Hoberman calls the film "New Wave to the bone." Another essential element in the enrichment of such stripped down materials is the delicate orchestral music by Michal Lorenc; film music has never been more needed or more successful. Cezary Grzesiuk's editing is sly and seamless. The story has moments of supreme irony. "Just as you wanted, I'm seeing a woman now," Leon tells his grandmother's grave after his voyeurism has reached the breaking-and-entering stage.

The whole has the feel of a Samuel Beckett short story with an added strange, sweet sensuality. There is no harm done. Leon is picked up for the rape. Anna knows he didn't do it, but didn't see the rapist and refuses to testify at the trial. Leon is marked as a weirdo for his toe-nail painting, but Anna visits him once in jail. Later, released, he finds her house gone. It's one of the saddest moments in any film this year. From reports, this is a much milder, tamer film than Skolinowski's younger work (he is now 70), and it's never more than an elaborate development of a very short story, but it's very well done and very distinctive.

Cztery noce z Anna was introduced as the opener at the Director's Fortnight at Cannes and included in the NYFF, as well as Toronto; opening in France in November.

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