Warsaw Dark

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Edinburgh International Film Festival

EDINBURGH -- The list of prominent cinematographers-turned-directors is a short one -- Barry Sonnenfeld, Jack Cardiff, Nicolas Roeg, Freddie Francis and Jan De Bont spring to mind. On the evidence of the clunky Polish political thriller "Warsaw Dark," Christopher Doyle isn't likely to lengthen it anytime soon. It's classic example of style triumphing over substance. Knowledge of the real-life case on which the film is based may entice audiences in Poland. Otherwise commercial prospects appear gloomy.

Based on the still-unsolved killing of a prominent Polish politico that made national headlines in 2001, the diffuse story concentrates on Matylda (Anna Przybylska), a prostitute whose clientele includes several of the capital's more prominent citizens. When one of these johns is assassinated while with her in the back seat of a car, Matylda flees the scene only to be drugged and kidnapped by a sinister secret-service type (Leszek Zurek). He keeps her captive in a squalid flat and monitors her through CCTV cameras. The killing, meanwhile, is causing major repercussions among cops and mafia alike, and soon leads to further bloodshed.

It's a warning sign that there's no credited screenwriter for "Warsaw Dark," which originated as a script by Maciej Pisarek. When Doyle came on board, Pisarek reportedly exited the scene, which doesn't seem to have been to the project's advantage. As edited by Agnieszka Glinska, the plot is a convoluted chronological mish-mash that proves frustratingly difficult to follow. Doyle, whose sole previous feature-directing credit was 1999's "Away With Words," seems much more concerned with establishing an downbeat atmosphere of all-pervasive corruption and unspecified nefariousness, rather than with the old-fashioned business of actually telling a story. Attempts to give proceedings wider significance, through audio news-reports chronicling current Polish woes, come across as glibly opportunistic. Performances are solid and Kathy Rain Li's visuals are a strong suit.

It's disappointing to see yet again contemporary eastern Europe presented as a squalidly gritty, neon-lit dystopia.

Production companies: Ozumi Films. Cast: Anna Przybylska, Leslaw Zurek, Violetta Arlak, Adam Ferency, Jan Frycz. Director: Christopher Doyle. Producer: Marianna Rowinska. Director of Photography: Kathy Rain Li. Production Designer: Robert Czesak. Music: LE.AD. Costume Designer: Ada Wesolowska. Editor: Agnieszka Glinska. Sales: Ozumi Films, Warsaw. No rating, 87 minutes.
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