Review: Back Home
by Fabien Lemercier
- Magdalena Lazarkiewicz’s harsh and poignant film follows the re-appearance of a young woman who strays from her ultra-Catholic family
"Are you a ghost?", "I went to see a psychic who told me you were dead."The experienced Polish filmmaker Magdalena Lazarkiewicz focuses on a painful reintegration into family life – in a dull environment filled with a fervent faith that masks gloomy secrets – in the bitter film Back Home [+see also:
film profile], screened at the 19th Arras Film Festival as part of the Focus on Poland in the Visions of the East section.
Chapped lips, a blank expression and an unsettling air in a little black leather skirt, coat and high heels, which slam to the floor with each step. At 19, Ulka (Sandra Drzymalska) is far from the little girl singing Gloria in excelsis Deo we see at the very beginning of the film. When she returns to her family home – ushered in without a word by her mother Anna (Agnieszka Warchulska), who washes her like a baby before burning her things in the furnace in the cellar – we’re not sure what’s happened, nor how long the young woman has been absent from the apartment she shares with her terse father Stanislaw (Miroslaw Kropielnicki) and her two brothers, the surly adolescent Jan (Stanislaw Cywka) and the very young and tender Karol (David Rostkowski). Crucifixes and paintings by Pièta on the walls, prayers at home and frequent attendance at the local church, where uncle Jerzy (Tomasz Sobczak) officiates. Catholicism weighs heavily on a climate of incommunicability. The family avoids looking Ulka (obviously traumatised) in the eye, whispering as she passes, depriving her of cigarettes and locking her in her room. She quickly realises that they thought she was dead (after seeing a plaque that reads "Urszula Wysocka 1998-2017" in the church) and runs away to Lena (Katarzyna Herman), a disheveled alcoholic woman with whom she shares information about her recent past. Returned home after a visit to the police station, Ulka must face her uncle, the priest, who tries to get her to confess ("how many times did you do it? With how many men?"), causing the truth to slowly emerge, while a threatening individual lingers, and the family's secrets begin to unfold, a far cry from their superficial morality. Numerous events drive the protagonists to make decisive choices...
Relentless and brutally moving, Back Home is a film based on a screenplay methodically and skilfully written by the director and Katarzyna Terechowicz. Very well acted and staged, with a clean feel coupled with dark greyish tones by the director of photography Wojciech Todorow and music by Antoni Komasa, Lazarkiewicz’s feature film paints an uncompromising and poignant picture, that is nevertheless very strongly supported in terms of ideology (the hypocrisy of practicing faith), which may or may not unsettle viewers, depending on their own personal beliefs.
(Translated from French)
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