Body (2015) | Berlinale | Karlovy Vary

July 9th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director Malgorzata Szumowska

Cast: Janusz Gajos, Maja Ostaszewska, Justyna Suwala

There is something rather tragic about Malgorzata Szumowska’s BODY. And I don’t mean to insult the Silver Bear Winner or her latest drama. She encourages us to chuckle at this darkly ‘humorous’ portrait of a father daughter relationship that has clearly gone off the rails. Yet there is nothing remotely funny about the themes explored: a lonely ageing widower, a troubled daughter at odds with her life, a bereaved single mother who cannot move on from the death of her young son. The tone is upbeat in comparison with Elles and In The Name Of,  yet BODY never really offers a satisfactory or involving story with these well-drawn and worthwhile characters.

Veteran actor Janusz Gajos (Three Colors: White) plays a murder prosecutor whose own life is far from a picnic. In a grey and dreary Warsaw, his daily grind involves a stream of mutilated bodies, although the suicide victim he visits in the opening scene, bizarrely, comes back to life. Very black indeed. His wife has sadly died and left him living with his nubile daughter, Olga (Justyna Suwala), whose mother’s death has widened the existing rift between them. Their lack of affection has left her with an eating disorder. After a particularly bad attack, Olga finds herself in hospital and visited by Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), a therapist who treats bulimia and anorexia. Her placid serenity is conducive to her work as a clairaurient psychic, who dashes down messages from ‘spirit’ in a febrile frenzy.

Back at the family home, a poltergeist appears to be up to its tricks with leaks and creaks and other strange events. Michel Englert’s script attempts to turn these into witty vignettes yet they are laced with tragic overtones and gradually the promising plotlines pale into insignificance as we mull over the broken lives of the protagonists. Then suddenly something quite lovely happens with our mousy medium Anna. As she sits round a table with father and daughter, joining hands in a seance that began at night and is still going as the dawn breaks, a most uplifting moment makes this awkward drama sing out with heartfelt soul. The strange and magical alchemy of Englert’s clever cinematography and superb performances (particularly from Ostaszewska) manage to create a mesmerising finale. MT



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