Dir: Bartosz M. Kowalski | Screenwriters: Bartosz M. Kowalski, Stanislaw Warwas
Cast: Michalina Swistun, Nicolas Przygoda, Przemek Balinski, Patryk Swiderski, Pawel Brandys, Anita Jancia-Prokopowicz, Pawel Karolak, Malgorzata Olczyk
88min | Thriller | Poland
From a country known for its strong family values and staunch Catholicism comes PLAYGROUND, the debut feature of Bartosz M Kowalski who slowly constructs a story so doom-laden and harrowing it will stay will you for a very long time. It brings to mind the tragedy of 3 year old toddler Jamie Bulger who disappeared from a Liverpool shopping centre in 1993, never to be seen again.
Kowalski’s minimal approach to his co-scripted and produced subject matter is laudable as he explores, in a rather ominous tone, the early days of summer for a couple of pubescent boys as they kick over the traces of dwindling boyhood in the final term at junior school. Impressively performed by a trio of newcomers, this brutally stark thriller throws up a number of question marks about the future of an underprivileged youth in Poland who have have clearly not benefited from the spoils of post EU enrichment, whilst growing up untrammeled by the stern regime of the post communist years, of which their parents still bear the legacy from their own upbringing. This regime inculcated discipline, commitment and obedience to their elders. And although the privations are still present, these youngsters are from the internet generation which has allowed them to access unsuitable material and resulted in a dumbed down and casual attitude to violence and pornography before their own moral compass has had a chance to healthily be set.
Szymek (Nicolas Pryzgoda) lives in a broken down apartment block and is part-time carer for his physically handicapped father who is spends his time listening to classical music in bed, causing the boy to punch him up in unbridled frustration. His schoolfriend Czarek (Przemek Balinski) lives nearby in a squalid tenement where he shares a bedroom with his much younger brother who cries all time. “He’s still a child, and so are you, only much older” chides his mother (a hagard and harried Malgorzata Olczyk). Meanwhile, his older brother jeers at him when asked for some spare cash. None of this justifies delinquency but a toxic dynamic develops when he gets together with his mate. We see them secretly taunting plump school girl Gabrysia, on account of her puppy fat, and she mistakes their attentions for romantic interest, led on by another girl in her form: Children can be so mean. Plucking up courage, Gabrysia asks Szymek to meet her in a remote farm-building with the idea of asking him for a date. But when he turns up with Czarek, the two humiliate her, recording the footage on mobiles until she runs away, driven to tears.
The final scenes take place in silence, apart from some distant chatter and ambient birdsong, as we see Czarek and Szymek walking a gleeful toddler out of a shopping-mall. Clearly they have tempted him away with the promise of sweets or a treat. Straining to make out what happens next is an eye-bleedingly horrific experience as the images blur and fade into the distance, but never seem to end. MT
KINOTEKA 2017 | 19 MARCH 15.00 | REGENT STREET CINEMA