'Calling' ('Wolanie'): Wroclaw Review

Courtesy of New Horizons Festival
Formally ambitious miniature demands, and ultimately rewards

Witold Kotrys and Sebastian Pawlak play a vacationing father and son in Polish writer-director Marcin Dudziak's debut feature

A sort of stripped-down, slow-cinema, father-son descendant of Deliverance, writer-director-producer Marcin Dudziak's enigmatically named debut Calling (Wolanie) might as well have "-Card" attached to its title. With minimal dialogue and essentially just one scene of drama over the whole of its 75 minutes, the unspectacularly promising French-Polish co-production will doubtless test audience patience at numerous festivals following its world premiere in competition at New Horizons, Wroclaw. Shot on Super 16 in the 'scope 2.35:1 format, this immersion in the bosky great outdoors would be ill-served on the small screen but even within its native land represents a decidedly tough box-office proposition.

For nearly 50 minutes we observe — often in long-shot — thirtysomething Jozef (Sebastian Pawlak) and his pre-adolescent kid Antek (Witold Kotrys) as they vacation together in some unspecified, riverine landscape. Director Dudziak is careful to always frame the pair in isolation: even in the second shot, when they're traveling on some kind of bus, tight framing excludes other passengers and the driver. On arriving at their destination, the duo embark on a rubber-raft journey down-river with frequent stops, allowing Antek to explore the wilderness. The lad's chunky wristwatch marks him out not only as an outdoors type, but also a bit unusual — how many lads his age even bother with timepieces any more? — and it's through his evidently sensitive eyes and ears that we experience the low-key splendors of unspoiled nature.

The bulk of the running-time seems to consist of Antek looking and listening; conversations with dad, during what's presumably intended as some kind of bonding exercise, are few and far between, the pair generally proceeding in self-absorbed silence. Tomasz Wozniczka's camera will frequently survey the pair from a distance, then pan away to the right before the image fades bathetically to black. Not much happens; the only female 'presence' is a haunting vocal on a sparing score that generally comprises subtle susurrations, interwoven with birdsong and the near-incessant "voice" of the river.

At one stage Antek wanders off, fails to answer his dad's shouts, and is mildly scolded before he receives an embrace of forgiveness from his old man — this sequence presented at such a remove from the "action" that the viewer must peer intently at the image to see what's going on. Later, roughly two-thirds of the way through the picture, Dudziak finally delivers drama. Three young louts swagger onto the scene, played by actors whom the end credits, in a nicely sinister little touch, only identify by their first names. Their intent is hostile; Jozef's response is passive, even supine; little Antek must take charge. In outline, this development recalls Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet (2011) and Ruben Ostlund's current festival favorite Force Majeure. But in Dudziak's handling the aftermath and consequences of the notably well-handled scene are much more ambiguous and restrained.

His gamble here is twofold: to place so much burden, in what's effectively an oblique kind of coming-of-ager, on a juvenile newcomer — much hinges on how engaging we find Antek's responses — and to construct his screenplay, reportedly based on a short story, around one single, belated sequence of tension and friction. Both sets of risks eventually pay off: Kotrys proves capable of holding the screen and our attention while doing apparently little. And while page and screen are, needless to say, two very different media, Calling skillfully establishes and sustains its own mood, tone and rhythms, rewarding those willing to go with its decidedly sedate flow.

Production companies: A Son Image, Oko i Ucho
Cast: Witold Kotrys, Sebastian Pawlak, 'Marcel', 'Pawel', 'Zajcu'
Director/Producer: Marcin Dudziak
Screenwriter: Marcin Dudziak, based on a story by Kazimierz Orlos
Executive producer: Piotr Kornobis
Cinematographer: Tomasz Wozniczka
Editor: Daniel Gasiorowski
Composer: Karol Czajkowski
Sound: Jacek Pajak
Sales: A Son Image, Warsaw
No rating, 75 minutes