"Tricks": Challenging Fate By Grégory Valens

in 9th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Grégory Valens

A boy, his teenage sister, their mother who runs a grocery store in their village, the photo of the kids’ father, and a train station: with this very minimalist setting, director Andrzej Jakimowski manages, in his second feature (after Squint Your Eyes in 2002), to create a personal universe into which he draws a delighted audience.

The story of two children in search of their father could at first glance seem rather conventional, but it is enriched by a sense of space and rhythm showing Jakimowski as a master in the art of directing. The story focuses on the boy, Stefek, convinced that the man boarding a train every morning at the same hour is his father, who had left home before he was born. His sister Elka had suffered from her father’s abandonment and doesn’t wish to hear about him. Most sequences are organized around different relationships: Stefek and his father, who establish an oddly affectionate relationship in the train station; Elka and her boyfriend; Stefek and his sister’s boyfriend… Each of these sequences are almost documentary-like comments on contemporary life in a small Polish town (with its rituals, its gossips, its surprises) and a clever narration marked by subtle twists.

The twists are the ones that gives the film its title: as Elka had taught Stefek how to bribe fortune to make it go in the direction one wishes, the boy’s obsession is to find a way to bring his father back to his mother. Helped by two figurines of valiant soldiers, he feels empowered enough to make it happen. How Stefek provokes fate and tries hard to organize events so that they lead to make his wish come true is the connecting thread of the film. It gives it a comic tone as well as a very moving dimension.

Jakimowski brilliantly uses a narrow setting and gives the impression that we are always discovering new parts of the village in which his characters move as in a ballet. The choreography of the characters and of the camera movements reaches its ultimate achievement in the taking off of hundreds of doves in some of the film’s most poetic sequences — and God knows birds must be tough actors to direct!

Fresh, enjoyable and lively, Tricks could also have been a drama. The bittersweet tone of the movie is also what gives it its charm: although the dialogue is very witty and the kid’s character is charming, the tension arising in the background could equally lead to a happy or an unhappy ending. In this case, a very sober and poetic sequence concludes the film.

We must now hope that such a brilliant film will manage to find its way towards international distribution. The Europa Cinemas prize it picked up in Venice (where the film was screened during the Venice Days) should at least help its release throughout Europe.