Flings of Desire

in 21st Torino Film Festival

by Julian Hanich

A stranger arrives at night. The lonely house in the Polish countryside, which looks so nice and quiet from the outside, will have to face dramatic and emotional turmoil inside. The stranger’s name is Staut, a rather rare name, as uncommon as the guy to whom it belongs. Staut (Jacek Poniedzialek) is here to introduce himself to the family. He is engaged to Wanda, one of the daughters of the house. Yet, Staut seems oddly out of place. The mother and the sisters greet him with skepticism. Who is this direct, potent guy?

Their lack of enthusiasm has to do with Staut’s gender. The relations of the film’s female protagonists with men are problematic, to say the least. Marta (Maja Ostaszewska), the youngest, is sexually frustrated, because her husband Tadeusz (Wojciech Kalarus) rejects her erotic approaches. They have not slept together for months. Nor is he interested in fathering a child. Basia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who suffers from diabetes, has a daughter, it is true; but the father left her long ago (although, as it will turn out, he is closer than one might think). And the mother (Maria Maj), another solitary woman, was also unable to keep her husband. Only Wanda (Katarzyna Herman) seems happily in love with Staut. But the more the family is destabilized by Staut’s catalyzing presence, the more she is torn between her relatives and her fiancé.

This family is like a house of cards that might collapse after the slightest touch. And Staut, this bony, virile, and sensual man with a past, touches it with a vengeance. As forcefully as he pushes his lustful body between the legs of his fiancée, as decidedly as he destroys a thin plastic film that separates the rooms of the house, as directly as he addresses the mother’s problematic past, Staut enters and changes the family. Positively as well as negatively.

Slowly but steadily tensions grow and aggressions increase. The truth, long repressed, finally returns. But this implies also that white lies are revealed, obviously so necessary in this family. Staut might be an archeologist who uncovers the facts, but at the same time his excavations are almost literally a gravedigger’s work. “Changes” is a gloomy family picture — for which the rainy autumn functions as an appropriate seasonal backdrop. But it is also the hopeful story of a woman under the influence of her family who frees herself from domestic chains. Marta, for whom Staut is an angel of freedom, discovers the liberating force of sexuality. If it did not have the effect of overburdening this small, passionate film, one could say: Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” meets Pasolini’s “Teorema”.

“It’s a Brazilian soap opera,” Wanda self-reflexively says instead at one point of the movie. That this is not the case has a lot to do with a number of convincing actors, but even more so with the dramatic talent of the Polish director Lukasz Barczyk. In order to visualize the intensity of his Kammerspiel conflicts, Barczyk employs two stylistic devices. First, the protagonists sometimes face the camera directly — in other words, they turn their eyes on us. Second, the director, rather than relying on the usual shot -counter shot strategy, often uses fast camera pans in dialogue scenes. The effect is that it seems as if we are turning our heads to follow the conversation. Both stylistic devices attempt to involve the viewer personally. The audience becomes not only a witness but also a participant.

“Changes”, the most mature and intensive film in the Turin competition, is a promise — a promise eloquently made by its young director. Lukasz Barczyk, born in 1974, got his film education at the prestigious school of cinema in Lodz, where some decades ago filmmakers like Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kiesloswski had started their careers. So far, he has directed a couple of TV productions, one of which —”I’m Looking at You, Mary” (Patrze na ciebie, Marysiu) — won a prize at the festival in Mannheim-Heidelberg in 2001. With “Changes”, Barczyk and the cinematic screen have finally found each other. It could well turn out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.