Piotr Domalewski offered the audience a successful combination of police cinema and film noir, which later turned into a gay romance. The daring performance of Tomasz Ziętek, who this year has two main roles in the two most important films of the festival, completed the great whole. On Wednesday, the screening of the second of the anticipated titles “Let there be no traces” by Jan P. Matuszyński.
Young filmmakers have been present at the festival in Gdynia for years, but this year’s edition has proved that they have completely mastered Polish cinema. Of the 16 films presented in the Main Competition, apart from the painting by 71-year-old Ryszard Brylski, most of them are productions of people in their thirties or not much older.
The generational change of guard took place a few years ago, when, year after year in a row, the Golden Lions for the best film were won by debutants who could not be pushed from the front lines of the film. It is enough to recall a few titles and dates – 2014 is won by Łukasz Palkowski’s “Gods”, 2015 is won by Małgorzata Szumowska’s “Body / Body”, in 2017 Jan P. Matuszyński’s “Last Family”, in 2018 “Silent Night” by Paweł Domalewski.
And it is these two young directors (38-year-old Domalewski and 37-year-old Matuszyński) competing with each other this year for the festival’s main prize. A month ago, they competed for the title of the Polish candidate for the Oscars 2022.
Domalewski, a talented actor who decided that he wanted to know even more about the film, so he would become a director, went through Gdynia like a storm in 2018, winning the Golden Lions for the aforementioned “Silent Night” – a tender story about a family whose ties are severed by economic emigration. This year, he brought a classic genre cinema to the festival – a police crime story with elements of noir cinema, which, as the plot develops, turns into a gay love story.
Action “Hyacinth”, or a systemic fight against LGBT
The plot of the film was based on the famous action “Hyacinth” carried out by the security apparatus against homosexuals in the declining Polish People’s Republic – in the years 1985–1987. They were arrested, brutal interrogations were conducted, and briefcases were placed on the interrogated persons, the so-called homosexual cards, and above all compromised, usually ruining careers and family life. In the film, we see the victims of this action – an academic teacher who loses his position and job, young boys tortured so much that “they would even admit trying to shoot the Pope” – as the main character accurately describes the situation, the sensational Tomasz Ziętek.
The actor plays the son of a high-ranking SB officer who chooses his father’s career path, passing to the Civic Militia Officer’s School in Szczytno. Unlike a parent, however, he has rules and does not want his support. All he wants is to do justice. He is engaged to a policewoman from his police station and they have already arranged a wedding date. Just then, having no idea about the “Hyacinth” action, he finds a serial killer of homosexuals. Soon he meets a young philosophy student – gay, whom he decides to use as an informant. The man has been of interest to the organizers of the campaign for a long time. This relationship will not only turn his professional life upside down, but even more personal one. A close bond is born between the men, and our hero has to choose between the protection of a friend under surveillance by the SB and a career he has planned before, with his family by his side.
Let us add that we watch in “Hyacinth” the scenes of gay sex shot very subtly, which aroused a sensation and heated discussion after the first screening of the film at the New Horizons festival.
Although the present-day history of almost four decades ago – “LGBT-free zones” and phrases like “LGBT ideology” – has an unforeseen context, the director emphasizes that he did not make a political manifesto, but the noir-style police cinema he wanted to do for a long time. Meetings with viewers showed, however, that today it is impossible to watch this film without reference to the present, which the creators agreed with. Tomasz Schuchardt, in the role of a coarse partner in the work of the main character, played an outstanding role in this picture in the background.
Ziętek film festival
This year’s edition of the Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdynia is exceptionally kind to the young actor who has not yet had the opportunity to create an expressive leading character. Of course, I’m talking about Tomasz Ziętek. Domalewski cast him in the background in “Cicha Noc”, Ziętek also played for him in “Jak Najdalej Noc”, but only now could he really show the scale of his abilities. The leading role in the weak “Speedway” (2020) by Dorota Kędzierzawska did not give him such a chance.
Its protagonist – muted, extroverted and gruff – is a classic noir character. At the same time, the actor created an excellent, extremely different role in Jan P. Matuszyński’s “Let There Be Traces”, where he played the role of a friend of Grzegorz Przemyk, a witness to the crime committed on him.
While Domalewski’s painting is the so-called an actor’s film that is “made” by actors who are shining in their spectacular roles – a director who knows this profession from the inside, excellently runs them – it is Matuszyński’s film that focuses more on showing systemic oppression and the functioning of the apparatus of violence. Nevertheless, Ziętek “drew” from his character the enormity of the pain of a man fighting for justice for his dead friend, aware of his own helplessness.
A miracle would have to happen if he would not receive an acting award for either of these two performances. Another thing is that such miracles sometimes happen in Gdynia.
“Zupa nic” and “Najmro”, that is for whom the audience award
In addition to the films that count the most in the fight for the main festival prizes, in Gdynia we also watched titles that guarantee, above all, good entertainment. They usually win the audience award. This year, the main candidates for it seem to be the very successful comedy “Najmro. He loves, steals, respects”, inspired by real events in the life of Zdzisław Najmrodzki, a underworld celebrity who ridiculed the PRL authorities by escaping law enforcement agencies 29 times. The militia gave the head of Najmrodzki millions of dollars, and all of Poland followed his daring exploits.
Dawid Ogrodnik, who plays it, is again brilliant in another biographical story after Tomasz Beksiński. “Najmro” is already in cinemas, judging by the applause that will explode the screenings in Gdynia, it is the main candidate for the award granted by viewers. It seems that his most serious opponent may turn out to be Kinga Dębska’s graceful and humorous “Soup Nothing”, another return to the 1980s and the declining PRL at this festival, this time in a comedy setting.
Without a bloat, somewhat in the convention of family cinema, Dębska tells about the times when losing meat and sugar cards threatened the family with a food catastrophe. But at the same time, it shows that in the era of a shortage of material goods, family ties were much more durable than today.
The festival will last until September 25. On this day, we will know the winners of the Golden Lions.
Main photo source: FPFF, Bartosz Mrozowski