Review: The Clowns

Gabriel Muskala’s debut feature shows a fragile boundary between reality and the imaginary.

Gabriela Muskala’s debut feature film The Clowns (Blazny), which had its world premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival, asks existential questions and then attempts to answer them. One of the first things we see is the sea; through the voiceover, we Muakala’s main question – who are you when no one is around? Then we meet a group of students who are rehearsing to be theatre actors. They are preparing for their diploma work, and what excites them is that their graduation film will be directed by the famous film director, Gajda (Oskar Hamerski).

The actors, who also appear to be friends, start preparing for their roles triggering a Darwinian struggle for roles in the film. Former friends Łukasz/Abel (Jan Łuć), Olo/Cain (Sebastian Dela), Julka/Balladyna (Justina Litwik), Alicja/Alina (Magdalena Dwurzyńska) now become rivals, as the narrative undergoes a modern reinterpretation of the biblical story and Polish myth. There is, however, another conflict – between the acting performance, which gives the impression the students are on stage, and the camera, which primarily focuses on capturing television aesthetics, including a lot of close-ups. Muskala attempts to manipulate viewers by evoking the characters’ emotions, but the cast is already using a stagey, mannered delivery. As a result, the overall impression is that the film resembles a televised representation of a theatrical performance. Before making her directorial debut, Muskala worked as a playwright and actor (Fugue (Fuga), 2018). This background may explain why theatrical elements are predominant in the film. Muskala finds it challenging to shed her theatrical background and fully immerse herself in the cinematic storytelling of the narrative.

In the last century, during cinema’s early stages of development, it borrowed extensively from the theatre in terms of acting, dramaturgy and other elements. However, cinematographers eventually realised cinema is a distinct art form and should have its own structure and path of development. The problem with The Clowns is that it tries to develop its story via theatrical aesthetics and forgets about cinematic possibilities.

On the other hand, The Clowns tries to address the challenging issue that is common among actors. When you’re constantly required to adapt to different roles, it becomes difficult to disengage from them. This is why, as the dramaturgical narrative reaches its peak, the boundary between the real and the imaginary, the original and the duplicate begins to blur, and the characters find themselves confined within the roles they have assumed. This theme resonates with contemporary issues related to identity problems among today’s youth, because to truly enter the role, you must kill yourself temporarily.

At the same time, The Clowns underscores the challenges that have emerged in modern society, where individuals are compelled to sacrifice everything in pursuit of career success.

Giorgi Javakhishvili