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GoCritic! Review: 53 Wars


- Marija Jeremić reviews this East of the West entry by Ewa Bukowska, a psychological drama exploring traumas of war and the nature of assigned gender roles

GoCritic! Review: 53 Wars

A thrilling yet tender psychological portrait by writer-director Ewa Bukowska, 53 Wars [+see also:
film review
interview: Ewa Bukowska
film profile
is a jewel of Polish and world cinema. The story about Anna (Magdalena Popławska), a victim of PTSD and an ex-journalist-turned-stay-at-home-mum who lives in constant fear that her husband Witek (Michał Żurawski), a war correspondent, will die on the front, is adapted from a novel by Polish author Grażyna Jagielska.

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Numerous scenes in which Witek comes back home to Poland and then heads off again to another war-torn country, lead the way to Anna’s psychotic depression that eventually turns into full-blown madness. 53 Wars is an exquisite example of a carefully-crafted psychological drama that makes one think about the traumas of war as well as the nature of assigned gender roles.

The strongest feature of the film is its metaphoric relationship between Anna’s disorder and the subtle feminist critique of gender stereotypes. Popławska excellently depicts the deteriorating state of Anna’s femininity. During the first half of the film, Anna is above all a sexual being, a woman. Later, she becomes a shadow of herself, living in fear of the depression she is already experiencing. Whether this is the inherent fear some people have when they think feminism is threatened by the overt masculinity of war is difficult to answer. Though PTSD is possible whether the person witnessed the horrors of war firsthand or not, there is, despite this, a sort of hollowness in the film that creeps into the character herself. Popławska manages to turn that hollowness into depth.

As the film begins, it is not completely clear if a certain scene is a flashback into the distant past (or future) or just another in a line of chronological episodes. It is only halfway through the film that we realise that Anna’s reactions to her husband’s coming and going reveal the chronological unraveling of the story: at first she gives him sweet kisses, then as the film progresses her stares lengthen, and finally she ends up in a mental institution because of her reaction to his lifestyle.  While the script imposes a linear story, what is surprising about this film is that the direction corresponds to the subjective, pseudo-linear trauma of the main character, meaning that her illness develops in a chaotic rather than a clear, logical way.

There is, however, the question of the final resolution of the film. It seems as if Bukowska instructed Popławska to focus her energy on the prevailing indoor scenes in Anna and Witek’s apartment. So when the film switches to another location, Anna’s pent-up anger and sorrow shift into an unclear picture. As a result, the final sequence is less believable.

Anna’s psychosis can be read in terms of the bipolar relationship of the contemporary woman towards war. The chronological structure of the film is a strong asset here because it shows that the roots of this problem cut deeper into the past than we may assume at first glance. Perhaps more of a postscript than a conclusion, it is possible to say that this obviously contemporary film thematically belongs to the 20th and not the 21stcentury because that is when the contemporary woman’s primordial wound was opened.

*Marija Jeremić's participation in GoCritic! is co-financed by Film Centre Serbia

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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