Swimming Lesson

in 13rd T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival

by István Szathmáry

Tomasz Wasilewski’s Floating Skyscrapers (Plynace wiezowce) was presented in Wroclaw’s 13th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival as the first LGBT Polish film. This label will certainly help the film to receive media attention, especially in a country where a national hero such as Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa could recently provoke widespread international reactions thanks to his somewhat immoderate pronouncements on gay identity. As a matter of fact, Wasilewski’s second piece is definitely not a LGBT film — unless every film featuring explicit sexual interaction between two men belongs to this category.

Moreover, Floating Skyscrapers would not count as a taboo-breaking film, even in Poland. Instead of showing the struggle against social prejudice, Wasilewski concentrates mainly on the proper economy of relations determinated by a love triangle. In this context, sexual orientation means less than the dependence on safety or the difficulty of choosing a life path.

The protagonist of the film is Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), who has been training to be a champion swimmer, but lacks motivation. He lives with his mother and his girlfriend Sylwia, and feels claustrophobic in both relationships. His character can be described as that of an uncertain hero — one who suffers from the toxic intimacy of his world, and feels burnt out at the same time, but seems too weak to escape from this unhealthy situation. He accepts everything he gets: the care of his mother, the love of Sylwia and sexual affairs with other guys; but cannot take responsibility for his actions.

Kuba keeps hiding part of himself, that is, his real sexual preference, from the rest of the world — including his mother and his girlfriend. The real change comes at the moment when he meets Michal (Bartosz Gelner) at an art-gallery vernissage, a man who represents a more sophisticated world than the one Kuba had known before. Kuba’s attraction to Michal initially seems to be driven by sexuality, but it’s Michal who does not hide his interest in his new friend and wants take the relationship further.

The world of Kuba is strikingly isolated and female-dominated at the same time. Wasilewski clearly symphatises with his female characters, even when he uncovers their weaknesses. In contrast with Marcin Wrona’s The Christening (Chrzest, 2010), which was one of the greatest Polish films in the past few years, this film does not reveal any hidden aspects of friendships or tend to show the difficulty of unfolding emotions in this regard.

In addition, wider society is not presented in the film or, at least does not really affect the story. The only exception is a gang of homphobic thugs’ physical attack on Michal at the end of the film — an event which, in my opinion, breaks the coherence of the narrative. The absence of a father figure or other authority-figure is also crucial. In films, which are related to sport, trainer usually represent the authority or the totaliarism — as Szabolcs Hajdú’s White Palms (Fehér tenyér, 2006) shows us — but in the case of Floating Skyscrapers there is no trace of a similar metaphor.

The strength of Wasilewski, not to speak of his sensibly chosen details and the expressive sound-design, lies in his approach towards the reactions of Sylwia and Kuba’s mother. He examines the tensions between the manners in an increasingly modern Polish society and the strong emotions of its people. This contrast is parallel to the layout of the house of Kuba’s mother — it more or less follows prevailing trends, but on closer examination reminds us of an old-fashioned, more closed-off world.

Edited by Neil Young