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KARLOVY VARY 2022 Proxima

Review: Fools

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- Polish director Tomasz Wasilewski returns with another film about a difficult love, featuring remarkable technical prowess but a problematic structure

Review: Fools
Dorota Kolak and Łukasz Simlat in Fools

Six years after winning the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlinale with United States of Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Tomasz Wasilewski
film profile
]
, Polish filmmaker Tomasz Wasilewski is back with his fourth feature, Fools [+see also:
trailer
interview: Tomasz Wasilewski
film profile
]
, which has just world-premiered in Karlovy Vary's Proxima competition. The director once again tackles the topic of a difficult love in its final days, with a remarkable contribution from his lead actors and especially cinematographer Oleg Mutu. However, the decision to structure the film around a last-minute revelation turns out to be its biggest pitfall.

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Fools opens with a love scene that could have been explicit if the camera wasn't so close to the two bodies, positioned at the top of the bed. But the passionate sounds of lovemaking leave no doubt as to the physical closeness of sixty-something Marlena (Dorota Kolak, from United States of Love) and forty-something Tomasz (Łukasz Simlat, also from Wasilewski's previous film but most recently seen in Corpus Christi [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bartosz Bielenia
interview: Jan Komasa
film profile
]
).

They live in a flat that seems to be in the same building as the maternity ward where Marlena works – it is unclear if she is an obstetrician or a nurse. The place is situated among sand dunes by the constantly tumultuous, dark sea, which one concludes is Poland's Baltic coast. Even the restaurant they dine in seems to be located in the same building. Clearly, the location is metaphorical, a sort of a parallel world with similar – but not exactly the same – rules to ours.

Marlena and Tomasz's relationship comes under huge strain when she decides to bring her sick, bed-ridden son Mikołaj (Tomasz Tyndyk) to live with them, against her husband's wishes. However, the extent of his bitterness and the kinds of questions he asks Marlena confuse the viewer. It is plausible that there might be unresolved issues and that her son's presence might represent a threat to Tomasz, but what is happening is simply too intense for it to be just that. There is also Marlena's estranged daughter Magda (Katarzyna Herman), who drifts in and out of the film, and who practically sizzles with unexplained anger at her mother.

As the viewer's understanding of the characters' behaviour hinges on a revelation that comes in the very last scene, Fools makes for an exceptionally frustrating watch. The fact that Mikołaj's presence in the film is predominantly conveyed through his seemingly non-stop moaning, groaning or straight-out screaming makes it even more difficult.

But if the audience stays with the feature, it will be because of the technical and artistic heights it reaches in the cinematography and production design, rather than their curiosity about the plot. The extreme wide-screen image (a 3.10:1 ratio that Wasilewski and Mutu reportedly devised especially for Fools) makes the protagonists seem effectively imprisoned, strengthening the feeling of isolation initially introduced by the location and further developed through the characters' odd relations. In addition, in Marlena's apartment, every room has a different pattern on the walls, but always in cold, blue-grey tones.

Mutu excels in using this format and the interiors, with a particularly impressive effect being achieved with tracking shots: it makes one wonder how such a narrow field can have such depth.

The lack of music is made up for with rich and highly dynamic sound design, but this alternation between almost complete silence and loud noises sometimes just seems to add to the frustrating aspect of the viewing experience.

Fools was produced by Poland's Extreme Emotions, and New Europe Film Sales has the international rights.

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