Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Review: Floating Skyscrapers (2013)

Described by the film’s writer/director Tomasz Wasilewski as “the first polish LBGT film” Floating Skyscrapers (2013) boldly goes where no other Pole has gone before in its intricate study of repressed homosexuality. Mateusz Banasiuk stars as aspiring champion swimmer Kuba, an ambitious athlete with the world at his feet. However, when feelings for the boys at his gym float to the surface, problems at home arise and they’re only made more complicated by the fact that he and his girlfriend are cohabiting with his resentful mother.

Attending a gallery opening with his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), Kuba meets and shares a cigarette with Michal (Bartosz Gelner), a friendship quickly develops yet Sylwia has her suspicions from the off. As Kuba’s training programme becomes more aggressive, his feelings for Michal too become stronger and battling with his inner demons, Kuba believes he must sacrifice one for the other, much to the disapproval of his overbearing mother Ewa (Katarzyna Herman). The couple’s increasing mutual affection escalates against a backdrop of disapproving urbanity and strict, conflicting familial expectations. Kuba must fight for what he wants, but in this deep pool of conflict, it’s inevitable that someone is going to get hurt.

Great attention is given to minor detail, with director Wasilewski, pushing forward the narrative with strong visuals and sound effects over explanatory dialogue. The subtle moans, groans and heavy breaths from behind closed doors that mark the opening of the film pave the way for all that follows. The roles are characterised almost voyeuristically, through various eye level shots and a lingering lens that captures indicative and natural expressions. In moments of freedom, Kuba is filtered in natural hues, with his guilt captured in cold blues that embrace or chill the viewer almost unknowingly. Equal attention is given to sound, matching scenes with ethereal breaths, breeze or a mounting dirty beat to increase tension. It’s all mastered beautifully, with each prolific scene made visually arresting with immaculate symmetrical framing. The screenplay, perhaps groundbreaking in its homeland, is nothing new here. It shares various plot threads with Sally El Hosani’s remarkable, My Brother the Devil (2011) and is largely formulaic in its linear unfolding. However, Wasilewski’s thoughtful execution sets the film apart.

Although the film is dominated by Banasuik as the unlikable protagonist and Gelner as his pretty piece of flesh, the evolution of their courtship brings out unexpectedly remarkable performances from the secondary female characters. The rejected girlfriend played with aplomb by Nieradkiewicz is fueled with emotivity and proves, with her subtle physical nuances that actions can often speak much louder than informative discourse. Similarly and although sadly underused, Herman makes a fearful and intimidating impression as the demanding matriarch, restraining her son with her unremitting apron strings and adding great depth to Kuba’s self-centred condition. Performed by all with great assurance and composed with distinguished directorial flair, Floating Skyscrapers is refined Polish High Art at its most raw and promising and although beautiful to watch, Wasilewski leaves us with the parting note that Queer cinema and its subjects, particularly of the World variety, sadly have a long way to go before they’re universally accepted as a Beautiful Thing.

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