Floating Skyscrapers (Plynace wiezowce): Film Review

Floating Skyscrapers still - H 2013

Floating Skyscrapers still - H 2013

A beautifully acted gay love story with an unhappy ending.

A macho swimmer falls in love with a shy young man in up-and-coming Polish filmmaker Tomasz Wasilewski's downbeat second feature.

A sexy swimmer struggles to tell the difference between sexual appetite and sexual orientation in Floating Skyscrapers (Plynace wiezowce), the accomplished second feature of young Polish director Tomasz Wasilewski. Convincingly staged and acted, this promising second feature, which premiered only a year after Wasilewski's impressive debut, In the Bedroom, further consolidates the budding auteur as a name to watch on the Eastern European scene.

Though the narrative ends on a rather abrupt and downbeat note -- perhaps in keeping with the realistic view of how gay people are perceived by a large part of Polish society -- this is nonetheless a quite touching story about a sexually voracious young man who, despite frequent action between the sheets with his girlfriend, finds himself falling in love with another guy. It will appeal to LGBT audiences around the world, though the film's world premiere at Tribeca; the East of the West honors at the recent Karlovy Vary Film Festival and Audience Award at Poland's New Horizons festival also suggest it has wider cross-over appeal. Artsploitation in the U.S. and Match Box in the U.K. are among the distributors that have already secured rights for their territories. The film opens in Poland on Oct. 18.

A dedicated professional swimmer who's been training for 15 years even though he's just in his twenties, libidinous Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) still lives with his possessive mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman, from In the Bedroom). Kuba's sexy girlfriend, Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), has also moved into their cramped apartment, much to the chagrin of Ewa, who can't stand the fact the pretty girl also vies for -- and clearly gets -- most of Kuba's non-pool time and attention.

But the bristly tension between the women at home is nothing compared to the testosterone-fueled tension the sexually aggressive Kuba experiences during and after practice, as the hard and ripped bodies of his fellow male swimmers have started to act like a red cloth on an aroused bull. Initially, it seems that the dominant and indefatigable swimmer just wants to get off any way he can, but this eventually and slowly changes when he meets the soft-spoken, elfin-featured Michal (Bartosz Gelner) at a gallery opening he's been dragged to by Ewa. 

The boys have an instant connection that immediately raises a red flag with Ewa, in the same way Ewa's presence in Kuba's life raised a red flag with Sylwia. It's narrative symmetries such as these that not only help make Skyscrapers a compact and structurally reinforced item but also suggest that Wasilewski's a gifted, detail-oriented writer. A scene in which Kuba's cooked dinner for the two most important (but unfortunately incompatible) people in his young life, Ewa and Michal, not only beautifully plays up the desires, awkwardness, suspicions and embarrassment of each but also does so without barely any dialogue, relying on looks and mise-en-scene.

However, 1980-born Wasilewski's still very young. Like in I Killed My Mother from Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan, for every demonstration of innate filmmaking flair or talent, there's proof of a debutant's maladroitness that pops up elsewhere. The most jarring examples include the ostentatious use of Portishead's Glory Box on the soundtrack (with the not-very-subtle but also thematically incorrect line "I just wanna be a woman") for a parking garage-set sequence -- beautifully filmed by cinematographer Kuba Kijowski -- and some scenes with a totally unexpected switch of perspective to fill in the viewers on Michal's (beautifully observed) coming out to his bourgeois family.

The key scene in which Michal and Kuba finally become an item is also strangely lost in an ellipsis. The boys' first sex scene, however, is not only convincingly played but also well-placed, suggesting that, perhaps for the first time, Kuba has decided to not rush into sex but finally make love.

The young central trio of actors is a wonder to behold, with Nieradkiewicz (Out of Love) sexy and suspicious in equal measure; theater thespian and swimmer Banasiuk impressive as the macho whose mask slowly comes off as he recognizes he's capable of real feelings and Gelner (Suicide Room), who looks strikingly like a young Alain Delon in some shots, turning Michal into someone whose emotional intelligence is greater than that of most of his peers.

Wasilewski shows he's got a good eye for widescreen compositions and interesting angles and excels at using sound -- or the absence of it -- to conjure up images and emotions that are actually kept off-screen.

Production companies: Alter Ego Pictures, Studio Krak, Studio Q, Soundplace, Muzyczne Studio Produkcyjne Spot
Cast: Mateusz Banasiuk, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Bartosz Gelner, Katarzyna Herman, Olga Frycz, Iza Kuna, Miroslaw Zbrojewicz
Writer-director: Tomasz Wasilewski
Producers: Roman Jarosz, Izabela Igel
Director of photography: Kuba Kijowski
Production designer: Jacek Czechowski
Music: Baasch
Costume designer: Monika Kaleta
Editor: Aleksandra Gowin
Sales: Films Boutique
No rating, 93 minutes