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2016 Warsaw Film Festival: Visions on the Vistula


It’s gray and overcast in Warsaw, the perfect movie watching weather for the city’s 32nd edition of their annual film festival. Awakening to a foggy blanket (it looks like The Mist) enveloping the city, I began by embarking on the daily tour offered by the festival (each with a different theme), where I was impressed by an educational guide ushering us through Old Warsaw and a brief history lesson on changing architectures following the city’s reconstruction following WWII (a recommended video for perusal was this clip titled City of Ruins). Meanwhile, the recent passing of iconic Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda (the second of the country’s major cinematic voices to pass this year following the death of Andrzej Zulawski in February) has been noted by festival venues where poster art from his vast filmography is on display.

A wide range of films make up Warsaw’s 2016 film festival, several titles having premiered in other places, while there’s also a healthy turnout of talent. On my shuttle ride in, I met the director of Fragments of Lucia, Jorge Yacoman, fresh off a twenty-four travel day from Chile so he could premiere his sophomore title in competition. Shortly after, a brief conversation with director Logan Miller, here with his debut Live Cargo, starring Dree Hemingway, which premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Film wise, I caught up with Mexican director Daniel Castro Zimbron’s sophomore film, The Darkness. A thriller in the post-apocalyptic vein begins after the Earth has stopped spinning on its axis. Fog has overtaken everything, while a boy and his two siblings resides in the father’s basement, the only location they know or remember. But when one of his brothers goes missing, he decides to go on a quest to find him. As far as narrative goes, this plays out like the Josef Fritzl version of The Village, but it is neither as exciting nor gruesome as either reference might suggest.

Methodically and with persistent gloom, Zimbron’s film unfolds in repetitive measures of give and take between the preadolescent Argel (Aliocha Sotnikoff) and his domineering father Gustavo (Brontis Jodorowsky), a man who commands the children stay inside because a ferocious but vague beastie roams outside in an environment requiring humans to wear a gas mask in the perpetual fog. Except when Argel finds his father isn’t telling the truth about the gas masks, he wonders if he’s lying about the disappearance of Marcos (Fernando Alvarez Rebeil).

Zimbron does strike some particularly ominous notes regarding subtle reveals about Gustavo, who also enjoys making creepy wooden puppets made after likenesses of the kids (one wishes the film leaned more into its bizarre accents). What happened to their absent mother and why no one remembers her (despite the age differences suggesting at least Marcos would have memories of the woman) also creates a sense of sordidness which would have worked more intensely if The Darkness had also managed to build some tension. Instead, there are too many convenient dream sequences, as well as some improbable and prophetic dialogue from the youngest child, Luciana (Camila Robertson Glennie, a child performer with enough intense expression to court passing reference to Ana Torrent of The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973), who collects dead insects, believing them to be, like their mother, merely ‘asleep.’ But Brontis (son of Alejandro) Jodorowsky proves to be a compelling lead character, for once in a prominent role outside of recent stints in his father’s cinema, here resembling Pascal Greggory or 80s era American character actor Peter Jason.

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