My Father's Bike (Mój rower): Wroclaw Review

Music-themed Polish comedy-drama of inter-generational family matters may strike a chord with domestic audiences.

Director-co-writer Piotr Trzaskalski's audience-pleasing Polish comedy-drama stars local TV favorite Artur Żmijewski and jazz luminary Michał Urbaniak.

WROCLAW, POLAND - Music is the food of family-bonding in My Father's Bike (Mój rower), a wryly comic crowdpleaser from Poland whose prickly humor and high-profile stars should ensure harmonious domestic box-office returns following its November 16 release. Abroad, festivals catering to older audiences in general and jazz-lovers in particular will want to check out this third feature from director/co-writer Piotr Trzaskalski, which landed the Best Screenplay award at Poland's national film-festival in Gdynia back in May.

Indeed, the chief selling-point internationally is the presence of Polish jazz luminary Michał Urbaniak in what's effectively his first big-screen acting assignment at the age of 69. Based in the US for nearly three decades now, the violin virtuouso played with seminal film-score composer Krzysztof Komeda's quintet in the early sixties and guested on Miles Davis' 1985 album Tutu.

Belying his acting inexperience, Urbaniak hits the just the right crotchety notes as retired jazz-performer Włodzimierz. The action begins with the old coot's exasperated wife Barbara (Anna Nehrebecka) leaving him for another man after decades of marriage, a departure which sparks a full-blown family crisis.

Włodzimierz's highly successful classical-pianist son Paweł (Artur Żmijewski) interrupts his globe-trotting schedule to track down his errant mother, and the ensuing road-trip sees Paweł, his father, and his semi-estranged teenage son Maciek (Krzysztof Chodorowski) face up to various issues, enmities and secrets as they gradually unwind - and explore each other's musical preferences - in Poland's scenically lake-dotted north.

Among the half-forgotten incidents of the past is one which provides the film with its title in Polish, simply 'My Bike.' In terms of international exposure, the producers may want to come up with something snappier - especially as the bicycle tale isn't especially memorable or significant.

Trzaskalski's two previous features Edi (2002) and The Master (2005) both found considerable critical acclaim, nabbing Fipresci prizes at Berlin and Miami respectively. But he's operating in a more squarely commercially-oriented mode here: directorial flourishes are few, and the main emphasis is on allowing the performers to make the most of the screenplay's nuances.

The result is an undemandingly genial little picture with a TV-type feel, and indeed its domestic prospects on all formats will be significantly enhanced by the presence of small-screen favorite Żmijewski. Themes of masculine emotion and inter-generational relationships among guys are sufficiently universal, however, to indicate wider appeal, especially for audiences who don't mind a touch of sentimental schmaltz.

"All that will be left of us will be what our children or grandchildren remember," counsels an elderly family-friend, helping the work-obsessed, tightly-wound Paweł to reassess his priorities and rebuild bridges before it's too late.

Trzaskalski and his co-screenwriter Wojciech Lepianka lay on the life-lessons a touch thick at times, a sudden burst of fiery melodrama heralding a final act which features an unexpected, tear-jerking death and a credibility-stretching surprise revelation, and which ultimately rivals The Return of the King in terms of its excessively multiple endings. But their recipe is always more bittersweet than cloying, ensuring that My Father's Bike provides enough ups and downs along the way to make our time in the saddle worthwhile.

Venue: New Horizons Film Festival, Wrocław, Poland, July 22, 2012.
Production company: Federico Film
Cast: Artur Żmijewski, Michał Urbaniak, Krzysztof Chodorowski, Anna Nehrebecka, Witold Dębicki
Director: Piotr Trzaskalski
Screenwriters: Wojciech Lepianka, Piotr Trzaskalski
Producers: Marta Plucińska, Paweł Pluciński
Co-producer: Dariusz Gąsiorowski
Director of photography: Piotr Śliskowski
Production designer: Wojciech Żogała
Music: Przemysław Stangierski, Wojciech Lemański
Costume designer: Iwona Perlińska
Editor: Cezary Kowalczuk
Sales agent: TVN, Warsaw
No MPAA rating, 94 minutes