Review: My Friend the Polish Girl
by Kaleem Aftab
- With their debut film, screened at Edinburgh, writer-directors Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek create the fiction documentary
Playing in the Best of British section at the Edinburgh International Film Festival following its successful debut as part of Bright Futures at Rotterdam, My Friend the Polish Girl [+see also:
film profile] by writer-directors Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek is a faux documentary in which a London-based American documentarian, Katie Broughton (Emma Friedman), sets out to make a film about “immigrants, Brexit, and how people are used and disposed of. But it kind of didn’t turn out that way…”
When auditioning prospective Londoners to make a documentary about, Katie meets 32-year-old Alicja, the titular Polish girl. She’s been living in London for a dozen years, works part time in a cinema and wants to be an actress. Katie sees the potential for all sorts of drama when Alicja tells her that her partner has terminal cancer. It turns out that Alicja is quite liberal with the truth.
The story is told and shot from the perspective of an amateur filmmaker who is influenced by video bloggers and Snapchat as much as she is by the French New Wave and Cinéma vérité. Throw in some animation and black-and-white footage, and the story is told in a variety of styles that are designed to mirror all the tools at the disposal of filmmakers with access to a computer editing suite or mobile editing apps. It’s a sensory overload that doesn’t always work, even if it always ensures that there is something to look at.
The filmmakers have done a great job in portraying London as a place of opportunity but also a city where it is difficult to make friends. Watching Alicja go about her life, the movie deals with her psychological state, and in doing so, there are echoes of Polish director Roman Polanski’s London-set Repulsion (1965). As with that film, the more time we spend with the protagonist, the more we understand her fears, her sexual repression and her pathological state, riven with loneliness. It’s complicated by Katie being omnipresent, and like the classic 1992 Belgian film Man Bites Dog, it asks questions of what it actually means to document lives. Is there a form of exploitation going on? Do you change the story by having a camera there? Is Katie using and exploiting Alicja for her own purposes, given that at one stage she even moves in with her?
Thematically, the film has a lot going for it – almost too much – as the filmmakers struggle to wrap up the story, even creating a false ending that feels jarring. Despite the occasional missteps, the movie is an exciting, experimental effort by filmmakers who are aware of cinematic history as well as the society in which they operate. It’s easy to see why festivals are so keen to programme this picture.
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