…vacant

Kret (2011) Dir. Rafael Lewandowski

The poster sends a clear message: this is a thriller about a guy infiltrating a (possibly) illegal organization. My first thought — a Polish version of The Departed. Boy, was I wrong!

We follow the Kowals — a three-generation family. Paweł (Borys Szyc) and Zygmunt (Marian Dziędziel), the grown-up son and his father, work together – we could say they run a small business. They buy up cheap clothes in France to deliver them to several second-hand stores back in Poland. Practically, it means many hours and days behind the wheel and bargaining with unflinching Arab wholesalers. Surprisingly, neither Paweł nor Zygmunt complain (quite a shocker in a Polish movie). Yes, life’s tough, but it’s all worth it: once they come back home there’s Paweł’s wife Ewa (Magdalena Czerwińska) and their little boy Tomek (Jasz Pawlus) waiting for them. In one of the opening scenes, Borys Szyc, nicely portraying Paweł, paints positive emotions: a delicate smile on his face after he returns from another drive to France says it all.

Is this a movie about a family struggling with simple, everyday life? After the first few scenes, it seems this way. It develops quite slowly, and it’s hard to figure out what the story is at first. Then, it hit me. Literally. The story of the Kowals is just a pretext to once again (in Polish cinema) talk about 1980’s PRL and SB. Zygmunt was known as an oppositionist and Solidarity leader in the 80s. He’s been respected for his active patriotism. However, one day an appalling news leak into the press: Zygmunt was covertly working for SB, infiltrating his former work place, a coal mine in Silesia. He is the alleged Kret (Mole). The slander campaign against him crushes his family. Some friends turn their backs on them; Paweł’s mother-in-law doesn’t want to see him. All Paweł wants is to clear his father’s name. This is when his quest for the truth begins. Yet, as he starts digging deeper into the family history, he reveals secrets he wishes never to know.

There are two issues that sadden me in this production. First, the subject matter. Why every (other) Polish movie insists on going back to the 80s? Don’t get me wrong — I’m Polish myself, but it doesn’t mean I have to be stuck in the past. Kret proves the sins of the fathers fall on the sons, and we, as the nation, can’t escape our past. I disagree. I don’t understand why the PRL times affect a regular Polish family in such a way as if they still lived back then. Although Paweł argues at one point that he doesn’t care about the past and wants to live normal life, he does quite the opposite. Actually, he does the worst — becomes emotionally and physically involved with his father’s case. The movie also asks a question about patriotism. What does it take to be patriotic? What’s more important: your family or your country? Should people fighting for Polish independence in the 80s be considered good only on those grounds? The vision of the movie becomes quite clear: don’t judge cause you never know what you would have done back then. Plus, respect your country and your history. I beg to differ. Many of avid Solidarity members emigrated during those harsh times either escaping communist repression, or simply to earn money and back their families up (the movie includes such examples). How can we respect people who no longer give a damn for the country they used to fight for? I know, I know — the matter’s more complicated and it’s a slippery slope to pass judgments so easily as I might seem to.

The second troubling issue is Paweł’s wife. Ewa is by far the most unrealistic female character ever, or at least recently. Obviously created by male screenwriters, she embodies a perfect wife (never a word of complain or any grudge), mother (having time for her son even if she’s super tired), lover (pretty, with nice breasts, always ready to satisfy his man), student (managing to pass all her exams and successfully defend her M.A.), and a daughter-in-law (ever respectful and understanding, loving her father-in-law as her own). I could add that she also cooks, cleans the house, and doesn’t act like a bitch (sorry for the expression) during the only sorry ass fight she and Paweł have (sorry for the expression again). It seems to me that the creators take away her right to behave like a human being, and shape her into a perfect, imaginary wife. Once again, don’t get me wrong, I’m a young Polish woman, but we all have a breaking point. I vote against!

I can’t put myself in a position of a foreigner who watches this movie. I for one see it as bleak and boring at times. The dark colors make the Polish reality look dreary and who-would-want-to-live-in-this-country kind. Kret does not feel like a contemporary production, but a jump into the past. Plus, the very ending, the quite pathetic and out-of-the-blue conclusion to the story, strikes as baffling. If the reason for the characters’ actions is supposed to give us a lesson in morals, it’s pointless and confusing. Another try at dealing with our past, and another fail.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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7 thoughts on “…vacant

  1. I just saw the film (with English subtitles) and was impressed. I liked the slowly building plot, the muted colours of Poland in winter, and I especially liked the way the immigrant community in France was portrayed — the way they live in a time warp and have a distorted view of the Poland they refuse to return to.

    I agree the character Ewa needed to be made more lively and more imperfect to be believable.

    But I wasn’t disappointed to see yet another Eastern European film dwelling on the Communist past. That past still haunts, and the Garbarek character personified it well.

  2. Roger Birds says:

    Considering the immensity of events in Poland in the 80s, isn’t it justified to make films about them? Look at how many films the yanks have made about the Vietnam war (although I haven’t seen one about the many war crimes committed there…?)

    Personally I found the ending neither pointless or confusing, Pawel feels nothing but anger about the situation his father found himself in and wants to burn the past – literally. But perhaps you had been blinded by your breaking point by this stage that a wife could be both successful and supportive.

    • Queen of the Grubs says:

      I’m not sure what you’re asking about, but as for my review, I still stand by my opinion about the movie.

      • Roger Birds says:

        Considering the immensity of events in Poland in the 80s, isn’t it justified to make films about them? Look at how many films the yanks have made about the Vietnam war (although I haven’t seen one about the many war crimes committed there…?)

        Personally I found the ending neither pointless or confusing, Pawel feels nothing but anger about the situation his father found himself in and wants to burn the past – literally. But perhaps you had been blinded by your breaking point by this stage that a wife could be both successful and supportive.

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