Dir. Christopher Doyle.Poland. 2008. 87mins
Visionary cinematographer Christopher Doyle dips a toe in the murky waters of David Lynch-style weirdness with his second directorial effort Warsaw Dark, an alleged thriller inspired by the unsolved 2001 murder ofPoland’s former sports minister Jacek Debski. Elements of political conspiracy, shady underworld intrigue and romantic infatuation are executed with a measure of elegance but this is an idiosyncratic, unfathomable muddle that begins to resemble a jigsaw where all the pieces are present but the hapless viewer is clueless as to how they might fit together. Commercially this would appear to be a non-starter but Doyle’s name may ensure festival interest.
Doyle almost seems to invite comparisons with the Lynch of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Inland Empire as he provides us with images of flickering neon lights in sinister hotel corridors and a narrative that defies logic. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around the assassination of a politician lured to his death by the beautiful Ojka (Przybylska) who is herself subsequently drugged and held captive in a development that hints at some kind of Old Boy-style scenario. Who the victim was, what he represented in the political life of Poland and the fall-out from his murder are issues that bob along the surface of the film like wreckage from a sunken ship.
David Lynch has consistently proved that a film doesn’t have to make sense or follow a linear narrative to still be intriguing or enthralling. But Warsaw Dark just offers blithe confusion instead of a sense of suspense or dread. It is hard to invest in any of the characters when you are never entirely sure who they are or how they figure in the bigger picture - whatever that is. Nothing is made clear in Masiej Pisarek’s screenplay and Doyle may simply have decided to make the film as polished as possible without providing further illumination.
Ojka, also known as Magda, is the most engaging figure. She has the most screen time and seems to be the most fully-rounded character, thanks in part to a performance from Anna Przybylska that paints Ojka as a mixture of tough survivor and vulnerable outcast. It is the kind of role normally earmarked for Asia Argento.
Cinematographer Rain Kathy Li creates an interesting range of moods and textures from the steely blues of the city at night to the use of CCTV footage and even the odd moment of a swaying nightclub hostess that seems to echo Doyle’s own work with Wong Kar-wai.
The elements of John Le Carre-style skullduggery, Lynchian nightmare and Wong Kar-wai’s style are all present but stubbornly refuse to gel in a coherent fashion marking Warsaw Dark as a film that leaves you scratching your head in disbelief.
Production Company/Int’l Sales
Ozumi Films, Poland
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Rain Kathy Li