Review: Songs About Love
by Ola Salwa
- The debut feature by Polish helmer Tomasz Habowski is tender and poetic – just like every love song should be
Songs About Love recently won the Polish Competition at the Mastercard OFF CAMERA Festival in Krakow (29 April-8 May), and having now scored an international distributor, the film is eyeing a world tour. Directed by newcomer Tomasz Habowski, the movie has proven to be a sensation since its initial release at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. Low-budget (it was conceived through the Polish Film Institute’s so-called “microbudget” programme), in black and white and with a non-professional actress as one of the two leads, it won the hearts of the audience, critics and jury alike, snagging a major prize in the microbudget-focused competition. This simply lovely film, which gives off the natural and spontaneous vibe of the French New Wave, is a sheer joy to watch.
The story is loosely based on what the director experienced after moving to Warsaw from a small town. The protagonists come from two different worlds: Robert (Tomasz Włosok) is a privileged young man, whose father is a famous actor. He tries to make it as a musician, but it seems as though his easy-going, pleasant life in the city takes up more of his time than hard work. Alicja (Justyna Święs, a popular indie pop singer), on the other hand, has an admirable work ethic and makes an effort to make ends meet by waiting tables. She is incredibly talented both as a singer and as a songwriter. Robert is bewitched by Alicja and her talents, and wants to monetise the latter, not realising that not everything is for sale.
Songs About Love is gentle love story, obviously, yet not a conventional one, as the characters are on different wavelengths. Alicja, who, like a princess in a fairy tale, has a special quality or a gift (think of Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid), isn’t waiting for her Prince Charming. She has a job and a purpose, and doesn’t need a good-looking dreamer to mess with her head. As much as she needs her work and the money it brings in, she doesn’t want to sell herself, her talent or her voice. So, if Habowski’s film is indeed a tale, it’s more of a cautionary one about capitalism eating away at true talent, and how making a deal with big money may be a pact with the devil, which is also reflected in the career of Robert’s father.
Sound like something you’ve heard before? Probably, but Habowski’s talent and good taste make everything appear fresh. He doesn’t judge Robert or his hipster friends; instead, he portrays the way they live, drifting from one party and “project” to another, with privilege shielding them from the more mundane challenges of life. If one of the themes here is the clash of classes, it’s a very non-violent one.
All in all, everything in this film is pleasingly subtle and – well – just lovely, including the up-close and intimate footage by DoP Weronika Bilska (who also lensed My Wonderful Life [+see also:
interview: Łukasz Grzegorzek
film profile] by Łukasz Grzegorzek), the score by Kamil Holden Kryszak, and the subdued performances by Tomasz Włosok and Justyna Święs as well as the supporting cast (Patrycja Volny, Andrzej Grabowski and Małgorzata Bogdańska, among others).
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