With totemic names like Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Andrzej Wajda, the school of Polish cinema is one that instantly commands respect and attention. Since the birth of the moving image, Poland has given us films that range from brooding existential exposés of the human mind to undying political commentaries of the Soviet state.
Fifteen years in the making, Polish artist Mariusz Wilczyński's debut movie 'Kill It and Leave This Town' follows a protagonist who is hiding in the bowels of his memory. He revisits his parents, friends, and the life he once led. Describing the premise as such doesn't nearly prepare the viewer for the absurdity of this movie. Plotless, gloomy and surreal, it takes an interesting premise and turns it into something utterly inexplicable.
The film features a voice cast comprising established Polish actors Krystyna Janda ('Decalogue', 'A Short Film About Killing'), Andrzej Chyra ('United States of Love'), filmmakers Andrzej Wajda ('Afterimage') and Zbigniew Rybczyński, and avant-garde jazz musician Tomasz Stańko, as well as a score by renowned Polish composer and musician Tadeusz Nalepa.
Through 'Kill It and Leave This Town', the filmmaker channels his grief, mortality and isolation through a series of grim vignettes that capture day-to-day life in a working-class industrial city (based on Wilczyński's hometown of Łódź). Scenes shift from one to another in unexpected ways, making any sort of narrative causality that may exist hard to follow. An old woman with dementia looks for her missing dog, meanwhile, in the background, a dog is circled by a pack, its paw ripped off; a toddler needlessly berated by his mother; flies plucked off flypaper; a dying woman in a hospital bed saying, "I'm all alone here, lonely as an owl," as her son, an analogue of the filmmaker, brusquely brushes her off. Then the film becomes completely surreal at the 25-minute mark.
'Kill It and Leave This Town' finds Wilczyński taking his wildest notions to their expressionistic extremes to create dynamic, reality-bending, darkly comic and moving visuals. The animation resembles freehand drawings, largely in monochrome, which have been animated to move onscreen. The coarse illustration fashion, with its frazzled lines, only emphasises the film's bleakness. It's crude, vulgar and shocking, and it all works in context of the film to illuminate the messages and themes.
'Kill It and Leave This Town' finds Wilczyński taking his wildest notions to their expressionistic extremes to create dynamic, reality-bending, darkly comic, and moving visuals.
The movie does have the capability for magnificence - scenes of snowfall and rainfall and gentle streaming plumes of smoke from buildings reveal beauty. There are also many dialogue-free moments that resonate, and some touching and/or memorable exchanges. An encounter with a creepy cat demon and an eerie phone call were my two favourites.
It's mostly a slog, though. This is a film where severed heads roll down the streets, people defecate on the sidewalks, and the camera lingers on the drool from a corpse during an autopsy. Death and ageing are some of the core themes, with characters agonising in pain over a loved one at hospitals, being cut up like fish or fading in and out of youth at a moment's notice.
While the film meditates on the human condition with stunning artistry, 'Kill It and Leave This Town' also feels lengthy and taxing because of the unbearably bleak material. Many films tackle mortality, longing, and death, but so few have tackled those themes as wholeheartedly (and blended them so surreally) as Wilczyński.