Dir:Malgosia Szumowska. Ger-Pol. 2005. 98mins.
Thesecond full-length feature by Polish film-maker Malgosia Szumowska, Strangeris infused with the spirit of Kieslowski. But this slow, measured film about anunmarried girl who decides to go ahead with an unplanned pregnancy does notfeel derivative.
Unsentimental,emotionally intelligent, it gets under the skin, adding up to more than the sumof its occasionally jarring parts. The film's subtle hold on the audience restson a sensitive, finely-paced script, which was developed with the help of theSundance Institute, and on an understated but quietly magnetic performance byformer fashion model Malgosia Bela in her first film role.
Withits sombre tones and stately rhythm, Stranger is a film that needs to builda festival reputation before launching itself into arthouses, and has startedin the right gear with screenings at Sundance and Berlin, where it played inPanorama.
MalgosiaBela is Eva, a 22-year-old girl stuck in a dead end job. Made pregnant by a guywho has since done a runner, she decides to have an abortion; but on the way tothe clinic her purse is stolen by a wasted junkie, and she can't afford to pay.It's one of those Kieslowski-style, Catholic turns of fate: at the clinic,devastated, Eva suddenly realises that she's harbouring a tiny person, anddecides to go ahead with the pregnancy.
Shebegins talking to the foetus, playing it classical music - especially Bach, herailing father's great passion, and a composer whose measured adagios not onlyprovide part of the film's soundtrack (alongside Pawel Mykiteyn'sPhllip-Glass-like process music) but mirror its pacing.
Evabegins a relationship with Michal (Marcin Brzozowski), the anarcho-punk junkiewho stole her purse, and who turns out to be a sweetie. Dramatic counterpointis supplied by Eva's parents, played by veteran Polish theatre and film actorsMarek Walczewski and Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska. Eva is close to her father,but his mind is going; and her mother is too wrapped up in herself to give Evathe uncritical care and guidance she needs. Her only real confidante is Ivona(Barbara Kurzaj), a peppy redhead who is turning tricks as a roadside hookerwhile waiting for a call from her country boyfriend.
Thefilm's colour palette is sombre, taking its cue from the rather gloomy house ona hill overlooking the river, where Eva lives with her parents: trees are bareand leaves strewn on the ground. As her bulge swells, cold winter turns into apale summer which is figured by an outdoors wedding reception, but thenundermined when the party goes horribly wrong.
Butdespite these sombre chords, this is not a relentlessly heavy film: Eva's slowblossoming into self-assurance has a real joyful quality to it, and there areeven a couple of odd fantasy song-and-dance numbers, one set in a local park,the other during a pre-natal exercise class. It's a measure of the director'scareful control of tone that these actually work after the initial surprise.
Oneof the few duff notes is Eva's discovery of the post-punk squat and music venuewhere Michal hangs out that adds little to the story and doesn't feel as realas the rest. But this is a minor quibble. Overall, Stranger is apersuasive follow-up to the promise Szumowska showed in her first feature, HappyMan.
Prodcos: PandoraFilm, STI Studio Filmowe, Telewizja Polska, Bavaria Media
Int'l sales: Bavaria Film International
Prods: KarlBaumgartner, Raimond Goebel
Scr: MalgosiaSzumowska, Przemek Nowakowski
Prod des: Marek Zawierucha
Main cast: Malgosia Bela, Marek Walczewski, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska, BarbaraKurzaj, Marcin Brzozowski