SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Monday, 27 April 2015

It's murder on the 'HARDKOR DISKO' dancefloor! // An exercise in dread at this year's 'LONDON KINOTEKA - POLISH FILM FESTIVAL' sees a promising new director offer up a 3 act tragedy for the doom generation - and their parents.

* There may be spoilers in the broken condom dispenser in the disco toilets below - watch before reading! * 
Hardkor Disko is enhanced with an episodic soundtrack that targets its scenes precisely with a loitering camera gaze - one that's equally happy indulging in snippets of realism or documentary-style footage as it is with more fluid and carefully constructed, effortlessly relaxed voyeurism to convey emotion.
Soundtrack and image are invariably linked - whether in the moment, or as part of an overriding plot arc that focuses on the old and new - whether its the younger generation  versus the old, or just to illustrate the changing sound of the 'disko' (representing different principles and priorities). Quite often, soundtrack is used literally, with lyrics as a substitute script at times.

The old and new juxtaposition is often interesting but it is also a little bit obvious. The youth/ adult divide not as wide as the film probably wants to suggest or dwell on. Even if it is - films don't need to shout about something we already get. Most kids won't care - and anyone older probably shouldn't either. You get to a middle age and all you want to do is go out to parties and lust after younger people, or, if you are young - of course you get to street race, take drugs, have sex on a beach and drink all night in neon lit bars.

The thing is, it all feels a bit old-fashioned this and (despite the riffing on technology and youthful obsession with social media as opposed to real life) just a little bit 80s. Been there, done that, so to speak. Similar themes are carried off better in the Serbian take on youth danger/ pleasure in the shocking but fair - 'Klip' (2012). Or even Larry Clark's 'Kids' (1995) did it better. The 'hardkor disko' here is (maybe deliberately - I'm not sure) a pretty retro looking place to be, even when the music isn't.

I can't see this movie speaks for the youth of today or even the middle-aged; the tuning in and tuning out doesn't feel all that genuine. It's like an angry neighbour writing about 'bloody kids' running wild while at the same time realising his boring marriage is over and the wine cellar is empty. It's no surprise that the darker, more murderous nature of this movie is the most effective and troublesome than the lives of meddling kids; is, in fact - excellent suspense filmmaking.
Especially noticeably cold and lacking in the human drama is a later scenario involving a developing love triangle that's fleeting and flippant and rather dull. Or is that the point? That young minds no longer 'care'; they just 'do' and 'accept'. Life no longer like a box of chocolates - more like an uploaded image or clip.

Director Krzysztof Skonieczny titles his film with deliberately archaic spelling; representing a time past but still fully shrieking in the present day. Soundtrack switches from established retro dancefloor hits from a time the director labels the 'disko generation' such as Anna German and Dezerter to a more modern injection of current sound (the 'hardkor generation - ambient, hip-hop or electro funk') that includes Mary Komosa, Sorry Boys and (especially effective on the soundtrack) - Slutocasters. A young drifter meets with murder in mind - generations young and old collide. Specifically within one family: the Wróblewskas.

Hardkor Disko is supposed to be obtuse and disturbs with its lack of reasoning or answers. There is no linear plot device operating here - and no Agatha Christie-like reveal at the end. It's a statement of fact.

Marcin (a film stability-holding performance from a suitably broody Marcin Kowalczyk) arrives at the luxurious home of Olek and Pola Wróblewska, but they are out. Instead, their daughter - the blonde and wiry Ola (Jasmina Polak - vibrant, flirty, probably an outsider) answers. There is some brief conversation between the two. Basically just enough time for Ola to tell Marcin that her parents are out, and she walks away - but it's enough to initiate a chain reaction. Marcin lingers - watching her leave. Is there some attraction here or is Ola just a means to an end? A way to get closer to the parents who he clearly - and established from the outset; so no spoilers here - has the intention to kill.

Marcin and Ola meet later in a nightclub - the hardkor disko - and the camera establishes their attraction with starry-eyed backscapes and an onslaught of sound and drugs, sex (shot so routinely that explicitness becomes vapid - sex is more like a chore here) and sudden impacts.

Whether it's fair to tag today's youth as vapid and always after a quick fix; always under the thumb of a flickering screen and a chatter of random posts and even faster uploads - I don't know. But through song choice and on-screen murmerings, it's clear that Marcin, and to an extent Ola, represent the emptiness of youth, as this movie wants it to be portrayed. In the same way, perhaps, oldies Olek and Pola represent the blandness and routine of middle age and middle class stability.

Moody milf Pola is attracted to her daughter's new lover (kind of) and their attraction is offered in fleeting eroticism as she walks past the young man as he showers - with a towel in her hand to hang on the rail for him. She pauses and stares - lingers. Then moves on. Marcin seems fully aware of her attraction. He doesn't turn his back or anything - yet is also distant and completely removed. It's a more decisive and energised moment than the pounding of flesh dwelled on earlier between Marcin and young Ola which was a cold and unforgiving dehumanising of the sex act that was shot from some distance and with no sense of enjoyment from anyone involved (again - presumably deliberately).


The coldness of the film's only real sex scene may add clues - eventually - as to whether Marcin is actually in love with Ola (jealousy and some anger earlier towards a rival for Ola's attention hints at this - or maybe it's just another manifestation of his string-pulling and controlling nature) or whether he is just using the girl to get to her parents quicker. Marcin could also know that (after all he has done to this family) there is no future with Ola left to play with. You can make your own mind up just before the end credits roll.

Marcin's motives are kept open and still bleeding; there are no plasters here. But for me - his very existence and modus operandi is at risk if he falls in love. The anger he has kept boiling away inside will be at risk too; and justification for that anger and violent action taken will be rendered null and void if he stays around too long - or allows any regret to be shown. Because he has fallen in love, his exit is quick and unshowy in the end - decisive. As you'd expect.

Marcin's cruelty and vengeance is reflected in long takes where killing is quiet and causes some panic after the act; an act framed by calm - tranquil in execution. The countryside (framed with floating, long and wandering, one take camera shots) becomes forcibly juxtaposed with the craziness of city life, noise and lack of soul (but it's also a love letter to those places - the film is shot and shared between Berlin, Warsaw and Masovia).

Location is as erratic and seemingly opposed as the characters in this movie themselves often seem to be. Which doesn't mean that life can't be fun in the shadow of uncertainty - sex, countryside and city become as one here; an infectious and intoxicating potpourri. Death is the only spoiler.

Daily existence for Marcin feels more like an existence within a film (a clip) than real life - he walks, not in the beauty of the night, but within a cinematic landscape of random thoughts, acts or images (the implication being that it's the way we live our lives now). It's all too random and disconnected an existence to establish any real connection with the beauty of the countryside, any love of the city - or to care for anyone except in a possessive way that invites violence as a badge of honour. Anger and dissatisfaction then (perhaps as a consequence of the numbing nature of modern life - of Marcin's life) is different - in fact, it's essential. A driving force.

Flirtations with beauty outside of the city is more like a one night stand with promises of longevity that come to nothing - fleeting, distant, and fantastic (but only at the time - more as a moment). And natural landscape in this movie, when it appears, has never looked more appealing and intoxicating. But it's viewed precisely through the lens here; from a distance and almost overawed - not immersed (as, say, Polanski immersed his cast in the landscape for 'Tess' or, more recently, Nick Cohen's natural-born horror 'The Reeds' and Kelly Smith's effortless use of night and day within a rural landscape for 'Don't Let Him In').

Cinematographer Kacper Fertacz (who has credits on Melancholia and Antichrist but this is his feature length debut in charge) creates some beautifully oppressive natural landscapes - as often foreboding as they are tranquil and calm (and nicely offsetting the violence that takes place within these places - out of sight and sound of the city).

Hardkor Disko perhaps tries to feel shocking and fails to shock as much as it should or could - as nothing is ever all that explicit or all that enticingly deranged (more often implied - but with a film that plays with convention as this one does, that could be the right and expected reaction to have).

Maybe we should feel more shocked by Marcin. Instead there's a slow dive towards what could almost be eventual shared nihilism with the man himself. It can sometimes be exciting and lingers on in the subconscious days after viewing. With the music, we certainly get engaged. But eventually there are no answers. No big reveal. Everything ends without an ending. Maybe that's what life has become. Too fast and not furious enough. Even death is dull and slow in the world of the hardkor disko. That's modern life for you - it's getting a bit rubbish, like everyone said it might.

This is a debut feature length movie from actor/ director Skonieczny that intoxicates and weaves a little bit of magic in threat, mystery and steady unease. Soundtrack is strikingly possessive and performances (especially Kowalczyk and Polak as 'lovers' Marcin and Ola) are effective and suitably pensive and predatory in equal measure.

One scene, where Marcin dangles a knife above his eye, stamps an air of authority over proceedings so that - you will feel unease throughout the rest of this film, ok? The knife dangling, both serene and violent, is how the film approaches storyline and conveys the relentless pursuit of Marcin towards his awful eventual goal.

The act of murder and sex eventually blur (notably in scenes set within cars parked in the countryside where outstretched arms can signify either ecstasy or death - and in one instance, we just don't know for sure and never get told which). Nothing is ever as it seems; so many scenarios as vague as Marcin's intentions are throughout. And Marcin is mostly angry or dissatisfied in some way (soundtrack implies this is what it means to be young in a modern world) and relentless in his aggression - so that song remains the same.

The best scene in the movie is set within the home of the Wróblewska family. The mother, Pola, is at home when Marcin calls round. There is some sexual tension implied. Then the daughter, Ola, turns up and the first person she greets is her mother, with a kiss. Marcin is ignored, barely noticed. He is just there in the background, despite being her date. It's an indication that their relationship is more one of convenience - for Marcin to get closer to the parents and for Ola to have someone to be with or go with. Until the next person takes his place. And another person does take his place. For a time. Marcin expresses violence throughout the film when stability is threatened. But that's not necessarily because he cares.

Hardkor Disko probably isn't angry, violent or turned on enough to be a truly shocking example of new Polish cinema (this played at London's Kinoteka - 13th Polish film festival) but it's never dull and the randomness and uncertainty could just as likely be deliberate and symbolic. The film is split into three acts with the Father, Mother and eventually Daughter's Day giving everyone in this family their own turn - well, I wouldn't say to shine. More like to face consequences.

There's an underlying dirtiness to Hardkor Disko as well as a certain beauty and style in the chaos that could be the first sign of a major directorial talent at work. A deeply unnerving journey into one man's heart of darkness - with a disco soundtrack to cheer us all up with. It's crazy but brilliant - crazy brilliant!

As a last gasp, we should add a fourth act to this tragedy - a 'Director's Day'. It's rightful place will be up on screen as the credits fade and the audience exits, door right. Because this film is cinematic manipulation of the first order. Director Skonieczny has managed to create something of an urban/ rural/ musical crime thriller and framed it all with a love story (well - as close as he dare suggest the presence of one). And then leaving off any kind of neat ending or resolution - but still making it feel like we got one anyway (we just don't know quite what) is pretty genius.
Or - as another point of view - completely pointless.


Cinema is always more exciting when it leaves you feeling like you've seen something different, unforgiving - and perhaps slightly unhinged. And this movie is unashamedly all of that. The inclusion of a thrilling illegal street race hints at the possibility that this director is destined for crime and action cinema as soon as he gets himself a decent budget as much as he is a deft touch at cinematic instant messaging.   

The director of Hardkor Disko is certain of his convictions and emphasises the disconnection (and also the possible linking) of generations through sex, death, music and general apathy.

It's an intriguing idea and even Marcin gets - according to Skoniesczny, who co-wrote the screenplay with Robert Bolesto - a past to feel angry about (though I may have missed this in the middle of the heady on-screen mix). Personally I'd ignore at least some of the director's background explanations that may do the film a disservice and enjoy this movie for what it is - a meditation on dread. That's pretty much all you need to know right now.

Me - I'm off to the disco.


Words: Mark Gordon Palmer



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