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NEW HORIZONS 2022

Review: Elephant

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- Kamil Krawczycki's modest and charming debut feature is also a first production of Polish distributor Tongariro, which specialises in LGBTQ+ films

Review: Elephant
Jan Hrynkiewicz and Paweł Tomaszewski in Elephant

Elephant, which had a world premiere at the 22nd New Horizons International Film Festival in Wrocław, is one of these small and modest films that will thrive at festivals and arthouse cinemas. It’s a coming-of-age love story between two young men who grew up in similar circumstances, in small villages in the Polish mountains. Dawid (Paweł Tomaszewski) left home as soon as he could, while Bartek (Jan Hrynkiewicz) stayed, taking care of his alcoholic mother and his beloved horse. He actually has no intention to leave: he wants to set up a stable and live off his equestrian passion. Bartek has a quiet little life, working in a bar, and his only friend, except for the house, naturally, is his 60-something neighbour (Ewa Kolasińska), who is a kind of mother-figure to him.

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Everything changes, as it should, when Bartek falls in love for the first time when he mets Dawid, who returns to a village for his father funeral and befriends Bartek quickly. Their lives are like two sides of the same coin – they were both raised by alcoholic single parents, but one of them stayed and adjusted, while the other escaped. Director Kamil Krawczycki doesn’t side with any of these choices, focusing instead on showing a budding romance in the first half of the film, and the consequences Bartek and Dawid have to face in the second – and such consequences, in a small Polish village, mean the wrath of conservative neighbours. While many Polish films have presented hostility towards minorities, either explicit (All Our [+see also:
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Fears [+see also:
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, Operation Hyacinth
) or implicit (Silent Love [+see also:
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), Elephant does so in a slightly different way. The confrontation with intolerant folks is not very violent and is presented more like an obstacle for Bartek, who has to decide if he wants to stay quiet and obedient or not. What complicates the situation even more for him is his relationship with his mother; she suffers from addiction and has ups and downs, but on top of that, she has her own agenda to keep at least one of her kids – Bartek has a younger sister who left home after turning 18 – taking care the family’s land.

Krawczycki slightly rubs his directorial arm with many clichés, including the portrayal of a rural community that people either escape from or rot in; some of the dramatic scenes between Bartek and his mother are also a little unsatisfying, but what makes Elephant not so typical is its style and tone. With a hearty, subtle and romantic atmosphere, enhanced by shots of bucolic nature (the work of DoP Jakub Sztuk) and warm light, the film feels simply different and that optimistic mood is an external representation of Bartek’s buoyant personality. Elephant probably won’t be a festival lion, making a lot noise, but it should resonate well with audiences who have an appetite for simple and warm love stories.

Elephant was produced by Jakub Mróz through Tongariro Releasing, and the company’s distribution branch will release film locally. World rights are up for grabs.

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