Review: Bread and Salt
by Ola Salwa
- VENICE 2022: In his brilliant first feature, Damian Kocur inspects violence and the legendary Polish hospitality, but takes it with a huge pinch of salt
In his native Poland, Damian Kocur has been one of the up-and-coming directors to watch. His short films, brilliant in their raw style and radical notion of what constitutes on-screen reality, have won him a slew of awards. His debut feature, Bread and Salt [+see also:
interview: Damian Kocur
film profile], lauded at the recent Venice Film Festival (where it scooped the Special Jury Prize in the Orizzonti section), further proves Kocur’s unique talent and the clarity of his cinematic voice.
The story follows twentysomething man Tymek (Tymoteusz Bies), who returns to his home town for the summer holidays. He is a talented pianist, hardworking and ambitious, but in contrast, he looks more like a slacker whose only talent would be to fritter his life away. Misconceptions and cognitive errors are important themes in Kocur’s film, which gravitates towards some of Gus Van Sant’s early works as well as Larry Clark, sans nudity. The director conjures up an on-screen world that feels hyper-real, working with non-professional actors, whom he directs seamlessly.
Tymek has a younger brother (Jacek Bies, his sibling in real life), who also plays piano but shows less dedication to his vocation. Tymek tries to push him harder so that Jacek can leave their home town, too. But Jacek feels good where he is, hanging out with his buddies and his girlfriend in a kebab bar, run by two Arab immigrants. The story follows the relationship between the brothers, and between Poles and Arabs – while Tymek, who is generally open-minded, tries to get to know kebab-shop employee Yousef, the other guys mock him and start abusing him, too. The tension slowly mounts, much like the temperature for the proverbial boiling frog, and when the situation gets really heated, it’s too late to do anything about it.
What is striking about Bread and Salt – a saying in the Polish language and, as it turns out, in Arabic as well – is how the director captures the audience’s attention. His camera either follows the protagonists or is fixed, observing the situation they’re in, with both movement and stillness creating an atmosphere of psychological claustrophobia and a looming panic attack – there is still some air left to breathe, but it will soon vanish. This is a feature that pretends to be a documentary, and that is an apt artistic choice, since the film also inspects what is real and what is fiction: a story people tell themselves in order to understand the world. In this respect, Kocur’s film brings to mind works by Michael Haneke, especially Funny Games, and not because of the eruption of violence at the conclusion of the movie, but rather the reminder that it is so easy to trick people’s eyes and perception. Pianists can look like rappers, a hospitable nation can be xenophobic, and a seemingly simple film about a young man can be a philosophical work. Kocur is a bright talent and one to keep an eye on – a line that you, the reader, should take without a pinch of salt.
Bread and Salt was produced by Poland’s Munk Studio. IKH Pictures Promotion holds the world distribution rights.
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