Letter to God

in 49th Krakow Film Festival

by Tadeusz Szczepanski

Poste Restante, a new film by Marcel Lozinski, who is one of the most eminent Polish and European documentarians, stands out due to a very original idea and its excellent realisation. The inspiration came to the director from Andrzej Wajda who was intrigued by a press release about the post office where all undeliverable letters are sent to. He told Lozinski about it, persuading him to make a film. Lozinski decided to meet the challenge and created a film metaphor that starts from a very specific situation and gradually moves to abstract heights of our metaphysical yearnings, intuition and desires.

Poste Restante is composed like a poem. It opens with a scene showing huge cubes of waste paper for recycling. The following shots present the process of making new paper which is then used by a machine to glue envelopes. Such an introduction brings to mind an instructional film about the production of paper. Its purely technological stylistics is similar to the beginning of Three Colours: Red by Krzysztof Kieslowski, where the analysis of psychology and metaphysics of interpersonal understanding also starts with the presentation of telecommunications machinery. This similarity is intentional, as Lozinski – just like Kieslowski – is currently interested in the cinema as an instrument that projects, through the material world, elusive emotions, thoughts, hunches and ideas. In a word, the cinema as an X-ray of the human soul. In the case of documentary cinema the task is much more difficult than in the case of feature films, or even almost impossible.

A radical change of tone is brought by the image of a small village church sounding with bells over an idyllic plain. It is a starting point of a new thread, which is the path of a letter through subsequent links of the postal logistics chain. At the end of the path we reach the most important sequence of the film. It is the department of undeliverable letters at one of the post offices in Central Poland. It is the only scene of the film showing fully attentive faces of female post office clerks who read other people’s lost letters with abstract addresses (“To the good people”, “My parents” etc.), in order to find even the slightest trace that would allow the letters to be returned to their senders. Among the letters there appears an envelope addressed “To God. Heaven” (reportedly, every year this post office gets over ten letters addressed in this way). The letter contains a naive but touching request of a small girl who asks God to give her a sign of His presence. This declaration of longing for God is close to the theodicy of Antonius Block, a medieval agnostic from The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman. The fact that the laconic content of the letter was made up by the director is completely insignificant, as it seems highly probable and credible. Stamped according to bureaucratic procedures, the letter – together with other epistolary evidence of human helplessness against fate, the sense of loneliness, despair and the feeling of being lost – after the period determined by regulations will be taken for recycling.

And again we can see the cubes of waste paper for recycling that we know from the beginning of the film. The metaphorical meaning of Poste Restante is closed by its message which, at the same time, opens the film for new symbolic space. A ball of scraps, carried away by the wind, goes up in the air accompanied by nostalgic music by Wojciech Kilar, as a futile expression of our hopes, illusions, dreams and yearnings… Only as much and yet so much.

Edited by Yael Shuv