- A woman fighting for the rights of her autistic son leads the cast of Jacek Lusiński’s movie, which tries to strike a balance between socially-engaged cinema and entertainment
After winning the Best Screenplay Award for its director Jacek Lusiński and co-screenwriter Szymon Augustynek at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, not to mention the Aquila Prize for Best Supporting Actor – for veteran Andrzej Seweryn – at the 2023 Polish Film Awards, Backwards [+see also:
film profile] is now screening in the Bergamo Film Meeting’s Official Competition. The movie tells the story, based on real events, of a child called Kuba who’s on the autistic spectrum and who lives in a small Polish city between 1991 and the early noughties.
Śubuk, the film’s original title, is simply the little boy’s name in reverse (the Polish language is subject to declensions) and the only word which Kuba says and continually repeats, and which he even manages to write at just 4 years of age on his translator mother’s typewriter. Marysia (Małgorzata Gorol, who made an impression in 2018 via Mug [+see also:
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska
film profile]) picks up on her son’s extraordinary gifts but must also contend with the reality of the little boy’s condition. She became pregnant when a young student, courtesy of a police officer who pushed for her to have an abortion. But Marysia decided to keep the baby, having been convinced by her sister Marta (Marta Malikowska) who can’t have children herself and who promises she’ll take care of the baby while Marysia continues her studies. However, Marta dies unexpectedly and the protagonist is left all alone, revising her personal ambitions and facing up to the inadequacy of healthcare, welfare and education services vis-à-vis autistic children.
Kuba is played by four different actors aged between 1 and 19 (Wojciech Dolatowski, Wojciech Krupinski, Oskar Kawecki, Mateo Paczkowski), but the real protagonist is the brilliant Malikowska, who’s on screen for all 112 minutes of the film, striding through a panorama of powerlessness, anger, joy, contentment and then bitterness and disappointment once again. It’s a celebration of women who are faced with discrimination, exclusion and home confinement. Dedicated, in fact, to “all the mothers who are forced to fight for their children”, the film came about after a visit made by the director to a therapy centre managed by his wife, where a crowd of people were waiting for appointments with doctors and physiotherapists in the corridor. Just women and their ailing children. No men.
Despite its challenging subject, the film is shot through with vivacity and biting irony. There are moments of pure comedy, especially at the beginning with the sister’s lines, when the child cries all night, for example (“give me my life back!” Marysia hollers). It’s clear the director didn’t want to tread the same path as Venice’s 2021 Golden Lion winner Happening [+see also:
interview: Anamaria Vartolomei
film profile]; instead, he sought to strike a balance between high-quality cinema buoyed by a subject of social interest and an entertaining film form in order to attract a wider audience. It’s via this particular set-up, where the protagonist overcomes one difficulty after another and manages to achieve her own personal goals, that the movie’s feel-good aspect shines through, exploring a disability which Hollywood films often focus on: Coda, which won an Oscar in 2021, is just one recent example of this (a remake of a French film moreover), while the classic Forrest Gump is actually mentioned in the final frames of Lusiński’s film.
This will probably help when it comes to distributing the movie outside of its country of origin, although Backwards hasn’t roused the same enthusiasm at the Polish box office as other films have, such as Life Feels Good [+see also:
film profile] by Maciej Pieprzyca in 2013 or last year’s biopic Johnny by Daniel Jaroszek, both of which were carried by brilliant lead actor performances. Marta Malikowska’s is no less exceptional.
Backwards is produced by Aurum Film in co-production with Canal+, with international sales entrusted to Be for Films.
(Translated from Italian)
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