“You are not going to like what you are about to see” — The Last Family (Ostatnia rodzina) should have opened with this motto, although it would not have been very helpful with regard to what is to follow.
This is a story of a family, told in the utmost anti-familial manner. Yet it has nothing to do with the personal nightmares of the director, his world view or daring style. It has nothing to do with facts either, which is quite strange considering the “fact” that the film is based on a true story, making it is almost impossible to ignore the facts and avoid their overvalued authenticity. The Last Family gives you about three minutes before it makes you ignore everything you have learned about the Beksinski family. Which is all the more amazing when you realize that actually it is a very detailed recreation of the material. The power of the movie lies in this seemingly simple contradiction.
It is not a biopic and never tries to become one, yet strangely enough, it contains everything you could ever want to know about an artist’s daily life outside his art and his inspirations. In this life, evolving on screen, time flies, some things change and others stay exactly the same. As Zdzislaw Beksinski obsessively records his everyday life, he questions in a painfully explicit way the very existence of his family and of love. A former documentary director, Jan P. Matuszynski isolates the Beksinski and his family from their environment, and treats them as an experiment in family practice. The objective is to prove that family is nothing more than a bunch of people who have learned to live under the same roof not because of love but because of necessity. Or at least this is what a family is all about according to the pater familias, Beksinski. Paradoxically, this conscious alienation is the strongest connection between the painter’s dystopian art and his dark understanding of the real world. Matuszynski’s use of limited space, which is the most versatile stylistic device in the movie, is based on this idea of alienation. And not only as a form of externalization of Beksinski’s inner demons, but also as a way of communicating his ideas to the audience.
As for the isolation, apparently the family has lived in ugly apartment blocks, so typical in the communist era. One flat for the family and one flat for their troubled son. It’s all we have. No other residents are seen whatsoever. Despite their fame, they are all alone, the “last” ones, implying that once they are gone, the very idea of family will vanish.
There is a very important scene, in which the idea of fake is questioned. While Beksinski’s son, Tomasz, is explaining his disappointment with life, he talks about perfection as described in books, movies and songs. Perfect love, perfect family, perfect friendship, therefore perfect life… This is The Last Family’s way of telling us it is not one of those movies or works of art, which believe in perfection for nothing is and will ever be perfect. That is why the opening scene, where Beksinski recounts his dirty sexual fantasies, is so powerful. From the very beginning, he is portrayed as the one who knows it all, yet in the most imperfect sense.
There is an excellent consistency in this movie between its protagonist’s way of thinking, the creative storytelling techniques, and the camerawork. The camera’s point of view is the key to understanding the essence of the story. We are mostly stuck in hallways and doorsteps, and not as residents or guests, but as voyeurs at best. Moreover, Beksinski is actually framed as one of us. The director insists on casting him as an observer by showing him engaged in recording almost every moment of his life year in and year out. The recording devices he uses change, thus silently marking the passage of time and creating a perfect example of medium within a medium, with the latter — the movie which is framing Beksinski’s – being the more cruel one.
As an outsider, Beksinski consistently records death, pain, anger, weakness, despair and disappointment, ignoring the responsibilities of a supposed insider. Even the most intimate moments are haunted by his obsession. “Have mercy” says his wife on one occasion. But the artist is very determined to make his point: Life is never dreamy, it is a journey most unpleasant, harsh and overrated, which we should have the stamina to witness. The most disturbing thing about The Last Family is that time has legitimized Beksinski ‘s point of view and that we cannot escape from facing this fact.
Edited by Christina Stojanova
© FIPRESCI 2016