The competition for First Features at this year’s PÖFF in Tallinn was all about the domestic gaze. Two years of pandemic measures have thrown young filmmakers back into their apartments. It’s not always mundane and petty, but all too often it is. Observations are limited to everyday crises of identity, which of course always want to refer to a larger societal context. Long shots call out to the viewer: “Look!” Often, however, there are then merely silent people between furniture, sometimes crying softly. The greatest gestures within everyday life are cast as the most personal: without events, public life, and interpersonal relationships there is daily dancing or karaoke singing in front of the television. This theme can almost be seen as a new genre. The “stoic household film” as the last reflection of a compulsively impotent, fully digital life.
The Hatcher (Matecznik, 2022) by Grzegorz Mołda fits into this canon narratively as well as aesthetically, at least at first glance: we observe two very beautiful people in a very clean apartment. The young, simple Karol (Michał Zieliński) and the tense, stern Marta (Agnieszka Kryst) are quartered together. To be precise, one must resort to erotic film categories to understand the role-playing from the beginning: “Sub Twink” meets “Master Milf”. Mołda deceives the viewer with the domestically sophisticated to then let it gradually slip into the obscene-pornographic.
In the beginning, the setting is deliberately kept unclear. What is the shy boy with the electronic anklet doing in the apartment? Is it a consensual game between two adults, family abuse, or an institutionalised penal measure? This unstable adolescent first seems to clearly enjoy the narrow-mouthed drill of his auxiliary school supervisor. Insecurity needs consolidation, soothes quick thoughts. Karol comes from the “reformatory school”, we learn. This means that his previous walk in society has been judged morally wrong by authorities, and has been sanctioned. He is a convict: the reasons are known to both parties, the viewer does not learn this until the end.
As the relationship of master and servant progresses, their relationship changes from a sublimely erotic one to an obviously exploitative one. After initial scruples, the pupil gratefully accepts an electronic baby doll as a lesson in maturation. Even when he is spontaneously offered freedom, he is not willing to leave his life of simulation. But when the governess moves into the apartment permanently, thus exposing her loneliness and emotional dependence to the weaker one, the educational dynamic tips over into abuse.
Simultaneously, Mołda’s little household observation develops into a perverse orgy in which blood must also flow. Composer Jacek Hamela contributes a minimalist soundtrack that makes the horror nearly unbearable at just the right moment. Clearly, the director’s role models are evident at all times. Pasolini as a master of Onanism, and even more clearly: Haneke as a master of sadism. The series Black Mirror as a recent masterful example of dystopianism. Many clever ideas, especially in the screenplay (Grzegorz Mołda and Monika Powalisz) and the fortunate choice of actors – particularly the ballet dancer Agnieszka Kryst in her first role – save The Hatcher from the accusation of a mere tribute to its role models.
The obvious psychosexual confrontation is combined with the modern surveillance state. Even if Karol is guilty, what can he do in his defence? Who judges him and with what moral code? If he is then convicted, how is he to mend his ways and in what way? Is suicide left to him as the only way out to preserve his own dignity in an inescapable state?
In fact, this debut work exceptionally manages to point at the big questions without the constant impetus of its own importance. More importantly; Mołda avoids adolescent indoctrination where puritanical index fingers can easily be wagged. In his first feature-length film, he manages to make the viewer doubt himself on various levels, disgusting him in places only as a second thought. In The Hatcher there is clearly more to see than apartments, tears and karaoke, despite the isolating domestic approach.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2022