In a Bedroom: Karlovy Vary Film Review
Promising young auteur makes tense but teasingly open-ended debut about a call girl in contemporary Poland.
Male movie directors have long had a slightly dubious fascination with female prostitutes, but thankfully this contemporary Polish drama does not pander to tired screen stereotypes about sex workers. The feature-length debut of 32-year-old writer-director Tomasz Wasilewski is an artfully shot character study that reveals its psychological depths with guarded caution, like a slow-motion striptease. Superficially about the business of sex, it soon delves into deeper and more nuanced material.
Already a domestic award-winner, this classy art-house suspense thriller had its international premiere in Karlovy Vary last week. In A Bedroom is probably too slight and subtle to make big waves outside Poland, but stylish and sardonic enough to reward curious niche audiences with a taste for bittersweet Eastern European realism.
Statuesque, intense, 40-year-old beauty Edyta (Herman) has a neat scam going. Posing as a call girl on the internet, she meets up with wealthy men in their homes, knocks them out with sleeping pills, then steals cash or sometimes just a free bed for the night. Chilly, amoral detachment is her weapon of choice, but with quiet desperation beneath. On her lonely nocturnal jaunts around Warsaw she meets a young actress who is appearing in A Streetcar Named Desire, but she soon sabotages their budding friendship with her dishonest actions. There is no kindness between strangers here.
Apparently homeless and penniless, Edtya’s glacially aloof surface poise begins to crack when an encounter with artist Patryk (Tyndyk) ends badly. After an initial period of distrust, these two misfits form an uneasy bond that blossoms into a budding romance. Edyta opens up to Patryk, revealing the emotional crisis which led her to this extraordinary experiment in sexual manipulation. The duo then embark on a sentimental road trip to Poland’s Baltic coast.
Despite his relative youth and inexperience, Kwasniewski shows an impressive flair for tightly controlled emotional tone and striking geometric compositions. The first half hour is full of abstract fragments and wordless tableaux, at times feeling for more like a visual art project than a dramatic story. Eventually the characters and their motives are shaded in, and the film’s visual grammar becomes more conventional, but it remains an eye-pleasing experience throughout. The final beach scene is ravishingly shot, even if it could pass as an upmarket perfume commercial.
In A Bedroom is lean and stylish, but not wholly satisfying. Though it initially promises a cutting satire on gender roles and sexual politics, it soon settles for being a fairly straight suspense drama. When Edyta’s true situation is finally revealed, her previous risky behavior suddenly seems all the more implausible. Her journey also ends on a frustratingly unresolved note, more with a whimper than a bang, leaving the real emotional fireworks to explode after the credits roll.
It is both compliment and criticism that In A Bedroom leaves you wanting more, much like Edyta’s duped clients. This assured debut never quite makes the most of its dramatically charged set-up, but Kwasniewski is clearly a young talent to watch.
Venue: Karlovy Vary film festival, press screening, July 3
Production companies: IQ ART film Sp. z.o.o. Outpost One Entertainment
Cast: Katarzyna Herman, Tomek Tyndyk, Agata Buzek, Miroslaw Zbrojewicz
Director: Tomasz Wasilewski
Writer: Tomasz Wasilewski
Producers: Michal Toczyski, Grazyna Strzalkowska
Cinematography: Marcin Martinez Swystun
Editor: Alexsandra Gowin
Sales company: IQ ART film Sp. z.o.o
Rating TBC, 76 minutes