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VENICE 2006 Critics Week

Who’s afraid of the big bad hyena?


Polish director Grzegorz Lewandowski makes his feature debut with the children’s horror story Hyena (Hiena), which was presented as part of the International Critics Week on the Venetian Lido today.

Hyena explores the frightful world of the swamps and post-industrial wasteland in Silesia as seen through the eyes of a little boy who finds it hard to distinguish between what is real and what is part of his feverish after-dark imagination.

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Produced by Pawel Rakowski for Skorpion Art Film and with Venice-regular Krzysztof Zanussi as artistic supervisor, Hyena plays like a Polish variation on the equally atmospheric Salvatores film I’m Not Scared [+see also:
interview: Gabriele Salvatores
film profile
, in which a child also had to face his fears.

The film starts with a black and white prologue set in the past that will later fuel some of the spooky legends the little protagonist Maly (Jakub Romanowski) and his friends tell each other after school. After a mysterious incident that robs him of his father and which creates an emotional gulf between Maly and his mother, he is left to his own devices.

To get to the small housing complex where he lives, Maly has to cross an area of post-industrial wasteland known as “Dead Ground”, which also houses the mysterious trailer that figured in the opening scenes. When a bloodthirsty hyena escapes from the local zoo and other people are found dead, the imaginations of Maly and his friends run wild.

Influenced in equal measures by gothic fairy tales and modern horror stories such as those involving Freddy Krueger, Hyena relies perhaps too strongly on its influences to work successfully on its own. But the film is gorgeously mounted and benefits from an appropriately over-the-top performance by hot young actor Borys Szyc in no less than three parts, including the role of the mysterious, disfigured man who lives in the trailer and seems to know more about the hyena than anyone else.

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