Strange Heaven (2015)

April 5th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Dariusz Gajewski

Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Bartlomiej Topa, Barbara Kubiak

107min | Drama | Poland Sweden

Dariusz Gajewski’s STRANGE HEAVEN (Obce niebo) delicately tackles the thorny themes of the nanny state and immigration. Agnieszka Grochowska and Batłomej Topa play Basia and Marek, a Polish couple who havee to Sweden with their nine-year-old daughter Ula (Barbara Kubiak). Following very much in the footsteps of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt it works on an emotional level where basic human rights and dignity  (in the real sense of the word) are taken over by the most extreme form of political correctness, masquerading as the law, ignores the needs, wellbeing and wishes of both parent and child.

Ursula is having trouble adjusting to her new school and language (Polish to Swedish is a tall order) and has even been given a new nickname “Ula”. Basia and Marek are also finding life tough in a new country and their relationship is clearly under pressure. A social worker (Ewa Fröling) with time on her hands questions Ula and has come to the conclusion that the girl would be better off with foster parents, forcing her parents into the invidious and painful task of trying to get their daughter back from the vice-like grip of the almost passive aggressive legal system in Sweden.

STRANGE HEAVEN makes for gripping viewing but of the kind that will have your stomach in knots as you work through your own feelings about Health and Safety and the loss of normal social interaction in today’s world. It may appear as if the premise is absurb and far-fetched yet Gajewski is tapping into a growing malaise in our public authorities and welfare system that often beggars belief albeit with a narrative that occasionally overplays its hand to underline the seriousness and implications of where, as a society we are heading. Ism also very perceptive in here in delving into relationships and showing how the dynamics of a healthy family (with often rambunctious ways of resolving and alleviating conflict could easily manifest as unhealthy to the outside world, heaven forbid the beady over-protective domain of the average social workers who are either covering their own backs or ‘learning lessons’.

Grochowska and Topa are a convincing couple, their volatility and harsh words dissolving into loving embraces or laughter (perfectly illustrated in an early scene where Grochowska literally bursts out laughing behind the social worker). As their tragedy dawns on them they are authentic. Topa calmly analytical, while Grochowska indignance in completely understandable, winning her Best Actress at this year’s Gydnia Festival. And Barbara Kubiak – is just right as a little girl who is well-mannered and, like most kids, surprisingly flexible, settling down in her new home and mustering the language – much to the anguish and distress of her parents who are naturally less fluent, at this stage. STRANGE HEAVEN may occasionally veer on the melodramatic but it’s a moving and intense film that resonates for a long time afterwards. MT


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