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ARRAS 2018 Visions of the East

Review: Fugue

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- Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s sophomore feature portrays the thrilling journey of a woman who literally doesn’t know who she is

Review: Fugue
Gabriela Muskała in Fugue

If the name of director Agnieszka Smoczyńska doesn’t ring a bell, maybe her twisted and colourful film set in 1980s Poland, revolving around two teenage mermaids who rampage around the night clubs in communist Warsaw, will jog your memory. The title of that musical-horror was The Lure [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
film profile
]
, and it earned Smoczyńska awards at festivals such as Sundance, Sofia and Vilnius, as well as an international fan base. Apart from being a great multi-genre story, The Lure’s focus was on the sexual and emotional initiation of the two creatures. They were in a transition period, trying on their new world and their new life, just as you would try on someone else’s dress – with intrigue and trepidation.

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The protagonist of Fugue [+see also:
trailer
interview: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
film profile
]
(screening in the Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival), Alicja (the superb Gabriela Muskała), is going through an experience that is the exact opposite: she is trying on her old life, which she doesn’t even remember. We first meet Alicja as she emerges from a tunnel at Warsaw’s Central Railway Station, looking elegant and bizarre at the same time. Next, we see her two years later, with short hair, plenty of attitude and no recollection of who she really is. She is diagnosed with dissociative fugue, a condition that has made her forget her identity. Her family claims her after seeing her on a TV show about missing persons. Alicja learns that her real name is Kinga, and that she has a husband (Łukasz Simlat, from United States of Love [+see also:
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interview: Tomasz Wasilewski
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) and a five-year-old son. Initially, she wants to abandon her new/old family as soon as possible, but she gradually becomes intrigued by the life she left behind and sticks around to discover it.

The film plays out a bit like a horror flick, with stylistic hints of the Greek New Wave and American indie, but thanks to Smoczyńska’s firm-handed directing, the plethora of subtle influences are combined into a coherent whole. She can manoeuvre through delicate, emotional scenes as well as creating an atmosphere that will make the hairs on your neck stand on end. She keeps her physical distance from the characters (there are very few close-ups), but at the same time, she stays close to Alicja, also externalising her emotions through the colour palette (cold, pale, washed-out blues and greens) and the sound design (kudos to Marcin Lenarczyk, who also worked on The Lure). All of these seemingly contradictory angles and decisions serve one purpose, and that is to show the inner landscape of a woman in crisis, a woman who went from being affable and conventional (as presented in the opening scene) to unbridled and wild. Smoczyńska and Muskała, who also wrote the script, have moulded a very ambiguous, intriguing character, which is also a metaphor for the state of mind of many women in modern-day Poland, who are trying to free themselves from their traditional social roles – in less dramatic but no less difficult circumstances. Interestingly, Smoczyńska’s film chimes with Małgorzata Szumowska’s Mug [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska
film profile
]
, where the protagonist literally changes his face after a tragic accident, when he has to reintegrate himself into a small community. Mug is a satire with dark fairy-tale elements, and Fugue mixes drama and horror, but they both demonstrate that there is an identity crisis afoot in Poland. Cinema, after all, can be a very good barometer for the prevailing atmosphere in society.

Fugue is a Polish-Swedish-Czech film and was produced by Agnieszka Kurzydło from Poland’s MD4. It was co-produced by Axman Production, Common Ground Pictures, Film i Vast, MagicLab, the Mazovia Warsaw Film Fund and Odra Film. The Polish distributor is Kino Świat, and the sales agent is Alpha Violet.

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