This is the second film from Poland, released on DVD within a year, that deals with the homophobia in that Eastern European country. Apparently, Poland is still quite homophobic. The other gay Polish film from this past year was In the Name Of (W imie...). It focused on a gay priest in his late thirties or early forties who was in charge of a school for troubled boys out in the country. This film, written and directed by Tomasz Wasilewski, takes place instead in the city, most likely Warsaw. The protagonist is a gay or bisexual, competitive swimmer probably no older than 21 who trains, almost daily, possibly to enter the Olympic trials. Yet, he lives with his mom and girlfriend of two years in a cramped apartment.
What becomes apparent from the opening scene and certainly through to the end of this film is that Wasilewski loves wide shots and symmetry. He doesn't have a lot of cuts or edits. He also doesn't have a lot of movement. He'll typically set the camera up meticulously, crafting a wide shot for the characters where they can exist fully in the frame and let whatever action and emotion breathe in the space.
He does move the camera. Often, it's to follow behind his protagonist, as to remind us we're being led or else never to feel like the camera is being intrusive. Wasilewski never shies away from showing off his protagonist's naked body either. One could assume the filmmaker to be gay himself as the stare of the lens does have that homosexual gaze. Yet, a moment that thrusts us up close and personal to cunnilingus might refute this theory.
Marta Nierdkiewicz was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at Poland's equivalent of the Oscars for her role as the protagonist's girlfriend Sylwia, a waitress. The camera here lingers on her, revealing her love, jealousy and confusion with regard to this young man whom she's become attached.
Mateusz Banasiuk, however, stars as Kuba, the protagonist, the gay or bisexual, competitive swimmer who has been dating Sylwia for a while, yet he secretly gets fellatio from hot, young guys at the gym. Typically, his encounters with men are brief and detached of emotion. He's merely scratching an itch with them.
Bartosz Gelner plays Michal, a guy who does more than scratch an itch for Kuba. It was unclear if Michal met Kuba at the gym or randomly at an art gallery show to which Sylwia brought Kuba. Yet, it's outside the art gallery that Kuba and Michal share a cigarette and start down a path where they share more, including increasing amounts of time.
It gets to a point where something clicks and changes for Kuba, and we get the sense that swimming wasn't even his passion. Kuba perhaps only did it as a cover where swimming was only a way to suppress or hide his attraction to men. Yet, once his connection with Michal becomes undeniable or more solid, Kuba ceases to want or need swimming.
This is expressed in a beautiful scene of Kuba competing in a swim race and in the middle of it, he gives up and lets the other swimmers pass him. The camera is under water the whole time and all we see is Kuba suspend himself within the liquid blue all around him. Michal's father explains the title of the film later, but it's in this moment that one wonders if Kuba, putting aside his short stature, is the embodiment of a floating skyscraper.
Wasilewski doesn't give Kuba a whole lot to say but using action and visuals like this, Wasilewski is able to convey a lot. One very disturbing scene has Michal get gay-bashed. The scene all takes place in one, long, continuous shot and it is one of the most brutal and cold gay-bashes or beatings on screen in a while.
Most times, Wasilewski is able to just pull back the camera and have it rest on a wide shot of actors, letting the looks on his actor's faces convey everything. Again, this is how Nierdkiewicz earns her accolades. The look on her face during a meal with her character, Kuba and Michal conveyed so much with nary a word.
The very final scene does the same. It goes back to Wasilewski's love of symmetry. Kuba and Sylwia sit in a bathtub. They sit facing each other. The positions of their bodies like their legs and heads have them simulate a reflecting mirror image, and with it, so much is conveyed like how both are seemingly trapped.
Five Stars out of Five. Not Rated but contains full-frontal nudity and sexual situations. Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.