Thursday, 19 March 2009

Cocktails and weird foreign films

I went to the BFI last night, which always make me feel very sophisticated. This time it was for a screening of Four Nights With Anna, the new film from Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski and apparently his first in seventeen years. I had never heard of him before anyway, so this was my introduction to the man and his works.

Four Nights With Anna follows Leon, a socially inept (to put it mildly) loner in an unnamed, impoverished Polish village. Director Skolimowski starts playing tricks with his audience immediately. We watch Leon buy an axe and watch him throw a chopped of hand into a fire. Is he he crazy axe-wielding murderer? Nope, just a very lonely man working in the local hospital crematorium, whose only only point of human contact is his dying grandmother. Whilst looking for cover during a particularly rainy day he witnesses a violent rape. Paralysed with fear and by his own lack of confidence he doesn't intervene, but merely watches as the rapist runs off. When the victim, Anna, finally notices Leon he also flees the scene. Since Anna never saw the face of her actual attacker, Leon is eventually arrested for the rape and thrown in jail. Although set over a relatively short time-span, the film jumps between the past and the present, showing Leon before the rape, during his interrogation, in court, in prison and of course, during his four nights with Anna. Watching the brutal rape, Leon becomes fascinated with Anna's red toenails and falls in love. Using medication from his now dead grandmother he breaks into Anna's house and "spikes" her sugar, causing her to sleep much deeper than she would normally. Leon waits for her to fall asleep, climbs through the window and simply watches her, for four nights until the police takes him in. This is where Stolomowski uses, what he calls, his "sinister sense of humour" to lighten up the mood. It's not enough for Leon to be shy, lonely and just plain strange. No, he also has to be clumsy and have extremely bad luck. He slips in mud on several occasions and gets caught in nets and sheets whenever he tries to leave a place in a hurry. He buys an expensive ring for Anna, but manages to drop it between the cracks in her floor. She wakes up when he's in the room and he has to hide under the bed. This "slap-sticky" humour provides some light relief to an otherwise extremely bleak film, but it doesn't quite work. It's amusing and all but it just is a bit too much and eventually it's just plain annoying. Towards the end I just wanted to scream at Leon and tell to stop being such a baby. As a whole it was a pleasant enough film, but nothing that I would recommend to other people. Stylistically, it was very plain. Dark colours and long shots. There's not much dialogue and something is said it's just filler, without really adding to the story.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with the director and I was hoping that he would speak about the origin of the idea. The story itself was very timeless, without any real signs of modern technology. The year 2003 is mentioned in a court scene, so we knew it was set in the present, but that's really it. There are no computers, mobile phones or new cars, so it could easily have been set in the 80's or whenever really. I wanted to know if it was an old idea that he finally decided had to be told or a new idea that he came up with when he decided to get back into the business. Turns out the latter was the case and that the main reason the film was actually made was to prove to the film business that he still had it in him. The script was written in six days and then made on the cheap. So there.

Anyway, at the Q&A session they showed some clips from his earlier films and they couldn't have been any more different. His second feature, Barrier, looked particularly interesting and I will be looking out for that DVD later in the year.

After the screening there was a cocktail reception, with a bunch of different vodka based drinks (this being a Polish event and all). One free cocktail quickly led to five and six and then finally they ran out of vodka. Now my head hurts.

Scene from Barrier (1966)

No comments:

Post a Comment