Monday 23 March 2020

Film Review: Sala Samobójców. Hejter (dir. Komasa, 2020)

In Sala Samobójców. Hejter (Suicide Room: Hater), his latest collaboration with screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz following their acclaimed pairing on last year's Boze Cialo (Corpus Christi), Jan Komasa pops a Highsmith-ish anti-hero into the complex context of current Polish sociopolitical reality. Drawing on concerns over nationalist sentiment, populism, anti-Islam hate speech, online culture, and computer game violence, not to mention such incidents as last year's murder of the Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz, the film could look like a calculated effort to capture the Zeitgeist. In fact, the end result is consistently absorbing, sometimes startling, and, overall, a rich and perceptive exploration of our troubled times. 

The protagonist, Tomek (played by Łódź Film School alum Maciej Musiałowski), is a provincial boy cast out from the wealthy, arty Warsaw family who were his benefactors after a college transgression, and who both revenges himself and manipulates his way back in to the fold by playing various warring sides against each other. In particular, the scheme involves exploiting the family's support of a liberal politician (a spot on, hugely sympathetic Maciej Stuhr) who becomes the subject of a gay bar seduction/manipulation scored to Kylie Minogue's "In Your Eyes". The film is rather even-handed in the way it zeroes in on the manipulable nature of both Left and Right, thanks to online culture: a sequence showing Tomek darting between computers to create two Facebook events - one rally in support of the politician and one against him - skewers our crazy, mediated age as well as any  scene in recent cinema.

Komasa and Pacewicz's youth shows in some questionable elements - Tomek suddenly sleeping with his witchy boss (a harshly photographed Agata Kulesza), for example - but it's a mature film overall, in which the inevitable, crushing moment when video game violence turns real gives way to a good subdued final scene. Conveying insecurity, arrogance, coldness, and vulnerability Musiałowski keeps us off balance, and so does the movie. Comparisons to Joker (2019)'s orgy of self-pity are a diminishment. This is an ambitious, dynamic film that confirms Komasa (who wasn't even mentioned in Peter Bradshaw's trite recent Guardian piece on new Polish cinema) as one of the bravest of the new wave of young filmmakers currently at work in the country.

Sala Samobójców. Hejter can now be streamed at here

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