Part of Artistic Director Michał Oleszczyk’s fresh vision for Gdynia Film Festival last year was the inauguration of a new strand entitled, appropriately enough, “Visions Apart” (“Inne Spojrzenie”). This is a sidebar to the Main Competition that serves as a showcase for more experimental, eccentric, hard-to-classify Polish films.
Last year’s offerings were a mixed bag in terms of quality, encompassing the painfully empty gloss of Sebastian Buttny’s Heavy Mental, the quirky, lo-fi charm of Aleksandra Gowin and Ireneusz Grzyb’s pleasing Little Crushes, and the gleeful scuzz of Grzegorz Jankowski’s delightfully disreputable rock band comedy Polish Shit (a welcome winner of the 2014 Audience Award).
This year, “Visions Apart” has gained in prominence to become a separate competition boasting its own award, with six films competing for the “Golden Claw” prize. Sadly, my schedule only allowed me to catch two of the films in this year’s strand, meaning that I missed, among others, Maciej Sobieszczański and Łukasz Ronduda’s The Performer and the eventual prize-winner The Singing Napkin by Mariusz Grzegorzek, a piece produced by the prestigious Lodz Film School, and developed by and starring students of the Acting Department of that institution.
The two “Visions Apart” films that I did catch were both distinctive, however. I had reservations about Konrad Aksinowicz’s Into the Spirale, an edgy, slightly irritating exploration of a warring couple’s encounter with an Ayahuasca-toting hitch-hiker. Strong on brooding atmosphere, with some interesting play with structure and perspective (the film endeavours to turn itself into a spiral, of sorts), plus some fairly explicit sex, the movie never quite coheres and evaporates quickly, but it draws some tension and suspense from the protagonists’ dynamics.
More substantial — though also prompting more audience walkouts than any other film I saw at the Festival this year — was Kuba Czekaj’s Baby Bump. Crazy, inventive, and decidedly, well, gloopy, Czekaj’s energetic, brightly coloured taboo-buster bursts onto the screen like the offspring of Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo (1992) and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (2014), with a subterranean dash of Terence Davies, too. The movie at times threatens to burst off the screen, spilling the various liquids and bodily fluids that are so integral to its ideas and its aesthetic straight into the laps of the audience.
The focus is the growing pains of Mickey (terrific Kacper Olszewski), a shy, insecure kid on the cusp of adolescence who’s finding himself repulsed by the changes that his body has started to go through.
There are tell-tale erections, and all manner of secretions, plus ears that stick out and, in his imagination, bleed. The latter is a reference to the cartoon show, “Mouse House” that Mickey (!) watches, and whose protagonist turns up in his head to form a mostly self-lacerating interior monologue, delivered in bizarrely fruity English tones by Caryl Swift. There’s also the pivotal figure of Mickey’s mother (Agnieszka Podsiadlik) whose nurturing and sexual voraciousness are also a torment to him.
Baby Bump would make for an ideal double-bill with Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, in terms of its teen body focus and occasional incorporation of animation — and maybe even a triple bill with Inside Out. The film also makes space for a brief parody of Ida. Formally, the picture is the very definition of “busy”, incorporating the aforementioned animation work, split-screen, and all sorts of visual trickery throughout.
Little feels laboured, though (except some slightly dull music scenes at Mickey’s school), and the film moves into and out of modes very fast. Moreover, the devices aren’t mere gimmicks. Instead they work to powerfully convey teenage solipsism and self-consciousness, Mickey’s sense that his unruly body is constantly under scrutiny and about to betray him at every given moment.
Czekaj’s dialogue, much of it delivered in English, is every bit as ripe and vigorous as his film language: “pepperoni ciabatta” will never have quite the same meaning after seeing this movie.
Baby Bump is destined to be divisive, of course, but it clearly heralds the arrival of a very distinctive new voice in Polish cinema. Along with Agnieszka Smocynska’s The Lure (Corki Dancingu), a comedy horror musical that takes off from the premise “two mermaids walk into a Warsaw bar…” and that does much to present a fresh vision of ’80s Poland in the process, Baby Bump was the most badly behaved movie I saw at this year’s Gdynia and, without doubt, also one of the most memorable.