Field of Dogs: Filmart Review
Hong Kong Filmart, March 25, 2014
Michal Tatarek, Elzbieta Okupska
Lech Majewski’s poetic examination of loss.
Polish poet and filmmaker Lech Majewski is hard-pressed to follow The Mill and the Cross, his stirring 2011 recreation of Pieter Bruegel’s painting The Way to Calvary set in occupied Flanders of the 16th century, with an equally spell-binding subject. In Field of Dogs he exchanges the previous film’s broad historical and theological canvas for a less compelling tale of intimate personal suffering in the aftermath of a car accident. But admirers of erudite films will be comforted to find that Dante’s Divine Comedy provides the guiding thread through a gossamer narrative, one that fights a steep uphill battle to interest the viewer in the protagonist’s pain and redemption. It will appeal to an even more rarefied market than its predecessor and looks slated to consume its life at festivals.
That noted, the visuals are again striking and the theme of death deeply examined in an original way. Again there is a strong feeling that the stakes are high – a dialogue with God, a struggle for the soul. Another carryover is that Majewski is once more concerned primarily with imagery and only secondarily with plot and dialogue. But as this story about a grieving young poet (Michal Tatarek) who has lost his beloved and his best friend in a highway crash demonstrates, painting and poetry are not interchangeable, and readings from Dante (however well performed by Massimilino Cutrera) do not have the same punch as a painting that comes to life. Here the memorable images are all surreal, like an old man plowing up the floor of a supermarket aisle with two oxen.
Sporting a badly scarred but sensitive face, the young hero works behind the check-out counter of a soulless wholesale store. More often we find him asleep in a clothes bin in the back, or in the pew of a cozy cathedral. There he dreams painterly dreams of a naked woman nursing a baby on a riverbank, or of himself embracing a dead woman covered in blood.
He evades thought by channel-hopping on TV and imagines a bikini-clad blonde seducing him on a tropical beach. But meanwhile the real world impinges on his private grief with its own mega-tragedies: newsreels show graphic images of flooding all over Poland and the plane crash in which the country’s president was killed. The grainy images nevertheless look poetic in the context of the film. For example, a badly flooded cemetery in which even the tombstones are submerged and only crosses stick up out of the water (newsreel) rhymes with the final surreal scene of a flooded cathedral (fiction).
Dialogue is kept to a minimum and most of it is delivered by the boy’s compassionate, philosophical aunt (Elzbieta Okupska) in an extended monologue as she tries to comfort him. Unlike the priest in church, she faces death head-on and reads him an apropos piece from Seneca and then quotes Heidegger. Rather amazingly, it seems to help.
Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, March 24, 2014
Production companies: Silesia Film Institute, CG Home Video, Bokomotive Film, Odeon Rybarczyk Productions, 24 Media, EM Audio, Centrum Kultury Katowice
Cast: Michal Tatarek, Elzbieta Okupska, Jacenty Jedusik, Karolina Korta, Jan Wartak, Szymon Budzyk, Anna Melczarek, Karolina Wardyn, Massimilino Cutrera
Director: Lech Majewski
Screenwriter: Lech Majewski
Producer: Angelus Silesius
Director of photography: Lech Majewski, Pawel Tybora
Production designer: Lech Majewski
Costumes: Dorota Lis
Editors: Eliot Ems, Katarzyna Lesniak
Music: Lech Majewski, Jozef Skrzek
Sales Agent: Wide
No rating, 101 minutes.