Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:54 am 
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Sick Polish soul in hand animation drenched in memories

Prolific Polish multi-media artist Mariusz Wilczyński's hand animated film, the product of what he says is over a dozen years of work, may seem dark, surreal, and shocking. But in a short [url=""]YouTube intro[/url] he describes it as primarily a work full of love, a revisiting of his parents, the haunted but familiar city of Łódź, and his lost friend Tadeusz Nalepa (dead since 2007) whose music we hear throughout, its soulfulness providing a continua bottom note of warmth and soul. This complex, indigestible film deserves our patience because it's an expansion of visual worlds. We in America, lulled with the tamed, rounded off computerized images of Disney or PIxar or the sweetness of Studio Ghibli in Japan, forget the long edgy tradition of Slavic animation, which this film represents for us afresh in particularly sui generis and intractable form.

Jessica Kiang's [url=""]Variety review[/url] points out some of Wilczyński's images of people evoke "the politicized caricatures of George Grosz or the ghouls of Otto Dix meeting the surreal grotesqueries of Jan Svankmajer or Jiri Barta, minus the aesthetic intricacy." This - Grosz and Dix, anyway - represents a great activist tradition. Mind you, this film is very personal and intimate about life. [url=""]Peter Bradshaw[/url], who is admiring and says we can come back to the film again and again - which one can, because it has no narrative to get tired of, notes this is "animation which takes a fiercely miserable satirical stab at the world and itself, a language which is unreconciled, unaccommodated." Kiang says this film works so far outside the norm it reminds us just how "narrow" that norm can be.

A certain crudeness is intentional, and, if you are a little sick of the blandness of Pixar, has a welcome individuality and lack of polish. "Wilczyński serves up brutal images," says Bradshaw, "often drawn on lined paper, for all the world as if that was the only thing to hand when he decided to spill his imaginative guts. . . Here is the Neue Sachlichkeit [Dix, Grosz et al.] reborn; yet the realism is overwritten by something hallucinatory and nihilistic, but also funny in a bleak Beckettian sort of way."

Indeed Beckett is who I eventually began thinking of, life dialed down to its tragicomic minimum. But the filmmaker's most personal memories and loves are buried here too, with their place of earliest origin. "When I close my eyes," Wilczyński [url=""]has said[/url], "I see Łódź. I know where I smoked my first cigarette, I know how I felt at any given moment. It was here I read Dostoyevsky, Stachura, Nabokov and Mann for the first time. In Łódź, I listened to Breakout, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis and John Coltrane here. It was all very strong and intense."

[url=""]The lady[/url]who reviewed the film for The New York Times seems quite clueless and out of tune (which can happen with them), but she is right in noting the film is "plotless, gloomy and surreal — is more a direct translation of feelings and sensations than a traditional work of storytelling." The unity is emotional and internal but not narrative. Wilczyński illustrates his parents and his friend and from his YouTube introduction he means the memories to be of love (love for his ugly but now lost and missed industrial hometown of Łódź also). Nonetheless we see a son like Wilczyński seeming to brush off his dying mother in a hospital, who is then seen being sewn up after her death with heavy cord belly down to genitals. Severed heads roll on the street and humans defecate on sidewalks. Little human bodies are chopped up like fish.

Later, there is a memorable time when the boy and his father went on a train trip to another town, and the father forgot to call home to tell his wife they had arrived safely. A smirking woman station agent takes the call, promising to check (but how could she?) as she puts on makeup to go on a date. A happy journey has turned into a nightmare memory.

Transitions are sudden, and scale is violated with heads that grow tiny or gigantic at a whim. The big unflattering bulbous profile of the artist himself looms over everything for a while. It has been pointed out that in rendering human faces different animators do it so differently they don't match from panel to panel: note it is not Wilczyński who does the drawing but three different animators, with a supervisor.

Kill It has received wide recognition. It won the Grand Prize for Feature Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and FIPRESCI Award at the 2020 Viennale. "Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the film's hero hides in a safe land of memories where time stands still and those dear to him are still alive. Over the years, a city grows in his imagination, filled with cartoon idols from his childhood, until the hero discovers that eternal youth does not exist and decides to journey back to the real."

Scenes combine ocean travel and trains, bathing in the sea and in bath tubs. Miniature humans are cut up and stacked in a pot as if to be prepared for eating like fish. An old couple reimagines youthful sex, then the bodies shrink and grasp canes, sinking back to age. Electric guitar songs deliver soulful, wailing Polish-language blues in the rock-heavy score by Tadeusz Nalepa, Wilczyński's late friend celebrated here. You may not come back again and again, after all; but you will remember.

Kill It and Leave This Town, 88 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 2020, shown in 14+ other international festivals including Annecy, the Viennale, Prague, and Gdynia; five awards, three nominations. Screened for this review as part of the seven-film virtual Brooklyn Academy of Music Apr. 30-May 6, 2021 Kino Polska series.


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