A Short Film About Development on the Road

in 56th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Alexandra Pütter

Two guys, an RV, chemicals by the bottle, and the quest for the perfect product — no, A Diary of a Journey (Dziennik z podrózy) is not the Polish version of Breaking Bad, but an altogether more relaxed exploration of the master-student relationship.

Michal is 15 years old and wants to learn about analogue photography; Tadeusz Rolke is 82, a veteran reportage photographer who is willing to teach him. Together they set out one hot summer in an RV that doubles as a dark room on a journey through Poland. They travel through the countryside, through little villages and towns, and approach the people they would like to portray with a camera in their hands. And there we have one of the first lessons for the budding photographer: how to approach people, and, come to think of it, how to approach women. Decades of experience have supplied Tadeusz with a few tricks. “I am shy”, a pretty young woman tells him when he asks her to pose for him. “I am shy, too”, he says. “Let’s be shy together!” This is just one example of the nonchalant humour that characterizes this documentary. Needless to say, it works. She turns up for the appointment with a friend in tow for security, as any sensible girl would, but she turns up.

Tadeusz and Michal develop their films, select negatives for an exhibition and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Michal wants to hand even the not-so-perfect prints over to his models, but Tadeusz is against it. Only the optimum product leaves the hand of the photographer. Everything else is destroyed or archived, but never signed. For his student, however, the joy of the receiver counts. So he goes back and presents the people he only met and photographed the day before with their portraits. It is a rewarding moment for Michal, another self-confessed shy guy, when he sees the pleasure they get from his art. “I don’t look so old there!” an old lady exclaims. As they say, it is in the eye of the beholder.

In every master-student relationship, however, comes the moment when the sides switch, and A Diary of a Journey is no exception — first literally playfully, when Michal teaches Tadeusz golf, and later on a more serious level, when Michal has to be there during Tadeusz’s health problems. The ease with which the old master lets his student and the audience see him fail at something demonstrates even more what a great teacher he is.

Just like his two subjects, Piotr Stasik knows how to capture the fleeting moment. He — acting as cinematographer with Tomasz Wolski — is attracted by dancing specks of dust in a weak lamp’s cone of light just as much as young Michal is attracted by some dung in a meadow. “It can’t be shit. There are no cows around”, Tadeusz enlightens his young colleague. “Moo!” adds a cow from afar.

Not too long, not too short, director Piotr Stasik has found the ideal length for his subject and has the artist’s conviction to stick to 54 minutes, instead of padding things needlessly or weighing them down with explanation.

One doesn’t want to tell too much about this charming movie, but rather let viewers discover its riches by themselves. This film is difficult to hype but easy to love. I can’t wait to see it again.

Edited by Carmen Gray