Review: 25 Years of Innocence. The Case of Tomek Komenda
by Marta Bałaga
- Debuting director Jan Holoubek finds his footing with a solid, if grim, retelling of a real-life tragedy
Jan Holoubek's solid, well-made feature debut, 25 Years of Innocence. The Case of Tomek Komenda [+see also:
film profile] – screening in the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights and based on the real-life case of Tomasz Komenda, accused of an exceptionally brutal murder and left to rot in prison for years despite his claims of innocence – is the sort of film that it's impossible to enjoy, while at the same time you know perfectly well that it's actually pretty good. A brutal watch from start to finish, it goes from social drama to a story about a loving mother and a son, and then full on The Shawshank Redemption, but sans Morgan Freeman's soothing voice.
The lack of the latter is perfectly understandable, given the grimness of just about everything happening here, starting with the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl on New Year's Eve in 1997. Why Holoubek decides to show such a terrible scene much more explicitly than anything else that happens to Komenda (Piotr Trojan) in prison later on is both predictable and questionable – there is still a conversation waiting to be had when it comes to portrayals of sexual violence on screen. But apart from this hiccup (and some baffling casting choices, with Corpus Christi [+see also:
interview: Bartosz Bielenia
interview: Jan Komasa
film profile]'s Bartosz Bielenia looking so out of place that it physically hurts), he keeps things simple and unsentimental, helped by Cold War [+see also:
Q&A: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile]'s Agata Kulesza and Trojan – playing off each other so intensely that everything else just drifts out of focus.
It's interesting that the investigation itself, arguably the most important part of the story, feels so rushed in the film. Then again, if that was the price to pay for more scenes between Trojan and Kulesza, so be it. While there is no need to sum up the whole case, the mistakes made during Komenda's trial consisted of the usual suspects: messiness, bureaucracy and growing pressure from the media, repeating the “And still no arrests?” mantra just like one of those three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. In Holoubek's hands, it soon becomes apparent that what's most surprising is not that Komenda ended up as a scapegoat at all, but that he decided to fight.
Late true-crime author Michelle McNamara, who coined the moniker of the “Golden State Killer”, apparently hated hearing that “everything happens for a reason”, opting for “it's all chaos, it's all random, and it's horrifying” instead. Holoubek's film, while also finding some strength in people who say yes when everyone else continues to say no, and with a smiling Komenda himself showing up for a tiny cameo, basically proves her right. Anyone could have died on that New Year's Eve, and in the countries where the legal system is far from perfect, which would be most of them, anyone could have ended up as a suspect. It's all chaos, it's all random. And it's horrifying.
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