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Never Gonna Snow Again

Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster, is a masseuse with almost magical abilities. He can move objects telekinetically, is proficient in hypnosis and his hands can either heal his clients or kill them. Zhenia travels to a large Polish city where he finagles a resident permit and offers his massage services to those living in an upscale gated community. The wealthy residents live sad existences in their generic and cookie cutter community. They’re plagued by broken marriages, insolent children and sheer boredom. Zhenia mesmerizes his new clientele. He’s handsome, mysterious, patient and a perhaps a little radioactive.

Written and directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert, Never Gonna Snow Again/Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie is a hypnotic and mysterious drama that gently touches upon some big themes. These include anti-immigrant sentiment, prejudice,  income inequality and global warming. Utgoff delivers a solid performance as the elusive Zhenia. The film offers moments of stunning cinematography and is light on the fantastical elements. It can be a bit difficult to follow or to understand the main character’s motivations. Watching Never Gonna Snow Again is like taking a ride down a gentle stream. There’s no rush to get anywhere. Just enjoy the ride.

Fans of Stranger Things will recognize Alec Utgoff who plays the lead role of Zhenia. Never Gonna Snow Again was Poland’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film.

Never Gonna Snow Again is distributed by Kino Lorber and opens in theaters and virtual cinemas on July 30th. Visit Kino Marquee for more details.

Sundance: Prime Time

Set in Poland on New Year’s Eve 1999, Prime Time stars Bartosz Bielenia as Sebastian, a troubled young man who breaks into a major Polish television studio. He takes a security guard and on air hostess hostage and demands that he be broadcast live to the nation. With gun in hand and a note in his pocket, he  battles with the television producers and the hostage negotiators who will do anything to prevent him from reading his message. The situation gets more volatile as the night progresses, leaving Sebastian in a bind.

Directed by Jakub Piątek, Prime Time seems to have an important message to offer but ultimately fails to deliver. It eschews the conventional approach to a hostage thriller. Tension is palpable yet muted and the film moves along at a steady rather than frenzied pace. Bartosz Bielenia, who starred in the excellent Polish drama Corpus Christi, is magnificent as the disturbed Sebastian who is anything but a villain. However, the viewer never really gets to know his character. We’re left wondering about his motivation. Ultimately he is a relatable character whom we empathize with but the impetus for his actions are unclear. It leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

Prime Time had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

Corpus Christi

20 year old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) has just been released from a juvenile delinquent center where he was incarcerated for a violent crime. Upon his release, he is sent far away from his native Warsaw, Poland to a remote village to work. Instead of taking a job at the local sawmill, he pretends to be a priest in training. Daniel had reconnected with his Catholic faith through the help of the jail’s priest Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat). When the local priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) takes ill, Daniel takes over. The village he now oversees is reeling from the death of several teens in a head on collision with a local drunk. The widow (Barbara Kurzaj) receives menacing letters from the teens families and its up to Daniel to help heal the divide. Things get complicated when he falls for parishioner Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) and when an old nemesis from jail threatens to reveal Daniel’s secret.

“For Daniel, spiritual guidance is the only pure thing left in his life. I see his actions as a desperate attempt to tell the world what he would do if he were given a second chance.”

Jan Komasa

Corpus Christi is simply brilliant. Directed by Jan Komasa, this enthralling yet quiet film is based on a real phenomena of fake priests in Poland. Bartosz Bielenia delivers a captivating performance as the charismatic yet troubled Daniel. His story is bookmarked with violence. He is the victim of a broken system. Even though Daniel is an impostor, he’s also just what the village needs. Someone who will not only connect with them on an emotional level but also challenge them to open their minds and to find forgiveness in their hearts. I was quite moved by this story. I don’t know what I was expecting out of Corpus Christi but I can tell you that by the end I was blown away.

Corpus Christi is nominated for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s currently screening at select cities. Visit the Film Movement website for more details.

Slamdance: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album

When it comes to cursed families, a few names come to mind: the Kennedys, the Grimaldis, the Hemingways, Bruce and Brandon Lee. Now add to that list the Beksinski family. Famous in their home country of Poland, the Beksinski family included: Zdzislaw Beksinski, a celebrated Polish artist known for his macabre paintings and sculptures, his son Tomasz, a well-known radio presenter, movie translator and journalist, and his wife Zofia, the devoted matriarch who created a balance in a household with two very eccentric figures. Tragedy first struck the family in 1988, when Tomasz survived a plane crash which left one person dead and many injured, including himself. The experience left Tomasz, who was already prone to depression, shattered. A decade later, another blow to the family came with the sudden death of Zofia. A year later, on the eve of Y2K, Tomasz committed suicide. His father found his body. The final and most brutal tragedy of the Beksinski’s family story came in 2005 when Zdzislaw was stabbed to death over a dispute with a teenager about a small loan.

“I’ve started to use my camera as a diary, because I’m too lazy to write it.” 

Zdzislaw Beksinski

Needless to say that the story of the Beksinskis ended with great sorrow. When Zdzislaw died, he left behind hours and hours of home video footage. Everything from personal conversations, footage from art shows, family trips, important and mundane moments in the life of the Beksinkski tribe were all recorded. Fascinated by technology, Zdzislaw decided to forego the route of a traditional diary to create a video archive instead. Director Marcin Borchardt spent three years sifting through 300 hours of archival footage and the result was his documentary: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album. This living scrapbook is a portal into their world. In the era before social media, these recording were not fabricated for public consumption. According to Borchardt, this is what makes Zdzislaw’s footage so authentic. No one is putting on a show. The viewer is drawn into an intimate space where the Beksinskis have have deep conversations, especially about their son’s depression.

“I’m finished. I’m a wreck. I’m no good for anything any more.”

Tomasz Beksinski

Borchardt’s documentary offers a compelling portrait of a creative and tortured family. It reminded me of Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami which is entirely comprised of home video. However, I found Borchardt’s approach a lot more engaging. It does require some patience of the viewer to sit through stitched footage to make sense of what we’re being shown. The upside to this documentary is that while there is no real context provided, Zdzislaw narrated a lot of his footage so we hear the story of the Beksinksis through his words.

The Beksinskis: A Sound and Picture Album had it’s US premiere at Slamdance 25.

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