Grzegorz Królikiewicz  

Like his fellow countryman Zulawski, Królikiewicz has a unique cinematic language all his own. His general approach is what he calls the out-of-frame cinematographic space, where the film becomes more complete by making use of this 'external' space typically filled by an audience, including their view on history and subjective or personal viewpoints and states of mind. And his films employ an endlessly creative variety of techniques to provoke, invoke, and involve this space. Surrealism is only one of his tools, as is metaphor and symbols, and cinematographic experiments. He frequently tells a narrative through key fragments of the story, often capturing the meaningful center of the scene through carefully designed behaviour or via unusual visuals, camera angles and props, rather than just by telling the story. He provokes the audience to fill in the gaps and even the story itself with the help of the framework provided by the film space that leaves room for this much neglected other space. This is not just experimental cinematography for its own sake, but films that demand an involved audience that interact with the framework carefully built by his films. He makes use of metaphor often, using genre tropes only as backdrops and symbols to attempt to deliver a film that also lives outside of its celluloid delivery mechanism. A challenging and interesting film-maker. Died in 2017.

Of Some Interest

Case Of Pekosinski, The  
Królikiewicz's films often flirt with the border between purely metaphorical and some kind of a narrative, but this film is almost all symbolic. It is reminiscent of his earlier films The Dancing Hawk and Permanent Objections in the sense that it covers Poland's history as a country over several decades. Except the protagonist/actor in this film seems to be representing Poland itself, rather than a real person, portraying the people of Poland as a lost, hunchbacked, very old man with no name, always an old man even when he was a child born of the modern age. Bronek Pekosinski's origins are repeated many times in this film, 'thrown over the barbed wire fence by his mother in a concentration camp'; I.e., this is modern Poland of the 20th century brutally born of war and death, dragged into Socialism, constantly educated, disciplined, humiliated and trained to fit in with these confusing new regimes, both in school and as a grown up, until he finds himself unwittingly running a whorehouse. But he is also a chess-master, beating everyone at this symbolic social game much to their frustration, and they can't get around that. The film consists of many dozens of metaphorical scenes, each, I'm sure, representing another aspect of Polish history and politics. And although I don't know much about it and I feel that a lot went over my head, I still felt that I watched an involving historical documentary, with the human aspect of Poland's history depicted quite clearly. This is one flaw with this experimental approach of Królikiewicz, where some audiences (me) can't fill the required gaps adequately.

Dancing Hawk, The  
The story of the rise and fall of a peasant during the Polish socialist, communist and workers' union rule under the auspices of the USSR. As his respectability and power increase, his family and friends are thrown to the wayside, and even his own village suffers from his pseudo-idealistic drive. The film covers several decades of his life. But this being a Królikiewicz film, the sprawling epic story is told via fragments and snippets, many of them surreal or experimental. We not only dream his life through oneiric fragments, but we must also fill in the gaps as well as the meat of the story. The director carefully gives us enough highlights and key fragments to piece it together in our own subjective way, especially for Poles that experienced this history subjectively. The cinematography may feel often wildly experimental but is carefully thought through to provoke audience participation in various ways. Scenes are witnessed from the point of view of objects in the scene instead of as a camera or person. In some scenes, characters get stuck in a loop with variations on the same dialogue, or props keep changing between iterations until they break out of the loop, giving the audience a choice of options to experience, all maintaining the same core. Some scenes are blatantly surreal depicting an absurdly bureaucratic state in ways that would make Gilliam proud, but others merely feel bizarre until you realize they have simply been taken out of context and you must find the right context that enables the scenes to make sense. Dozens of unusual camera angles make us look at the scene with more (confused) involvement, and sounds are often disconnected from the scene as if they come from the room in which we are dreaming. The dramatic story in this film is not that interesting to be honest, but it's the unusual interactive delivery that makes it fascinating.

Fort 13  
Two Polish military officers are captured during WWI and imprisoned in a fort. When the fort is bombed, they find themselves buried in the basement complex of the fort along with hundreds of rats, a well full of potable water, and some basic supplies to keep them alive, but no chance of escape. The weeks, months and years go by with inevitable mental deterioration... For the first half of this film, it seems practically commercial by Królikiewicz's avant-garde standards, albeit a highly claustrophobic, oppressive, psychological war-drama movie that is almost a horror movie. But as the deterioration continues, the direction follows suit right into their states of mind, as the film becomes increasingly fragmented and purposely confusing, and soon dreams appear merged with surreal hallucinations. But even when a character dreams of being with a family, the dreams are interwoven with his misery and sounds from his dank basement prison, altering the fantasies into something nightmarishly oneiric. And this is only the beginning, as his mind (and the film) goes into an existential crisis and finally a kind of rat-infested dark nirvana that envelops the universe in isolated silence; An anti-2001-Space-Odyssey altered state of mind. This state of mind is simply unable to cope with the story ending, and the film leaves us inside this broken mind. An astoundingly immersive dark film.

Killing Auntie  
This highly challenging film starts off conventionally, seemingly as a variation of Crime and Punishment for young people. A young man kills his aunt suddenly for no particular reason in a fit of existential frustration, and spends most of the movie musing about it philosophically, dealing with the endless technical challenge of getting rid of the body, confessing to his priest, flirting with getting arrested and going to jail, and involving his new girlfriend. But, as with most of Królikiewicz's movies, it turns increasingly strange in the second half, dives into surrealism, and ends up only being understandable as densely symbolic. The theme of the movie deals with man's various inner demons, and his alarming thoughts, drives and whims. Some of the symbols are more accessible, such as his aunt representing conventional, banal and decent life versus his drive to be free and indulge, and in a highly surreal scene, sex, lust and the zoo are merged using pure dream-logic as his bestial drives flare up in oneiric ways. There is also his extended family, in another symbolic and bizarre scene, that feels both strangely alien and soothing at the same time, like many families. A purely fantasy fellow 'criminal' in jail provides advice. And so on. Details appear cross-referenced in various scenes, tying up the film like a surreal puzzle.

Królikiewicz's last film may be his most challenging. It is a series of vignettes portraying a poor neighborhood. Some shorts are surreal, some dramatic, some absurd. They all attempt to portray one aspect of their life through typically fragmented key-frames and absurd behaviour, as if our subconscious had directed and edited the film. One short depicts confusion and desperation born of hunger, the walls literally closing in as the long line to a store becomes one of those nightmares you can't get out of. Another blackly amusing short observes that neighbors only get noticed if they beat their wife and one wife thinks her husband doesn't love her if he doesn't get violent. One highly surreal short features a man whose only available pastime is electrocuting himself while other people obsess over the much more popular sugar. Another uses many cinematic techniques to depict paranoia so deep, it even continues after death. In another surreal one, a poor couple lose all sense of time and place, and in another they get hypnotized by the most nonsensical superstitions and jealous rivalries. One man is so abused and timid he literally turns into a rabbit, and bad smells are always terrifying. There's a scary priest that spreads the word to a prostitute in violent ways, and an overly-dedicated wife literally and graphically donates her second heart to her husband. People act here in bizarre ways that feel almost improvised, trying to capture the feel of a scene rather than trying to make linear sense, but the meanings and feelings are usually there for an involved audience. Some vignettes are less successful, but it is an interesting watch and experiment nevertheless.

Permanent Objections  
This second film in a loose trilogy at first seems the most conventional of the lot, telling the tale of a strange partnership between a swindler-gambler and an aggressive eccentric inspector with his own way of handling bureaucracy. The infamous meat scandal of 60s Poland is used as a backdrop to portray a broken system with ill-fitting government workers, confused goals, and moral values that are more lost than decayed. A nostalgic get-together reminisces about when things used to make sense and their efficiency was through the roof. And their new absurd positions of power combined with their criminal and base sense of morality is reminiscent of Heart of a Dog. But, gradually, the strange behaviour and confusion increases until one realizes this film is all metaphor, and, once you have deciphered the film's language and themes towards the final third reel, it becomes purely surreal. Interactions between the characters become increasingly abusive, absurd and with decreasing dignity, and the characters feel increasingly out-of-place with each other as well as their absurd jobs. Their living quarters and offices become less realistic and more abstract, with things like multiple refrigerators, strange machinery and neon lights. Their private lives and work are constantly observed by a surreal crowd and audience, working and living literally in the public eye as they investigate the scandals as best they can. But the rules, the system and public understanding stay out of reach. A final scene in a circus where they perform incredible acrobatic feats and break down in front of the audience can only be interpreted symbolically.

Through and Through  
Królikiewicz debut film is an avant-garde experimental work already with a firm grasp and vision of its own unique language. Although this sets out to tell the true crime story of a couple in the 1930s that senselessly killed their old landlords after some petty crimes, the film is more interested in using cinema to portray their alienated, and confused states of mind, as was evident from their unusual behaviour in the court-room that is somehow both touching with a moral heart, and utterly cruel and disconnected from reality. The film portrays it as a crime born of a confused society and political environment, committed by two misfits that have great difficulty finding their place. The fragments and scenes in this film are sometimes symbolic and are all carefully designed to deliver the meaning or emotional content of an interaction rather than present it as a piece of the narrative puzzle. The rest is left for us. Thus, a long scene where the man clumsily tries to help by ringing the church bell and ends up tearing his clothes and clashing with everyone is a symbolic one, with much confused tension and odd behaviour to do with a clash of an individual with religion, society and family. Tension between the couple becomes a surreal burning bed, or as bizarre violence against a pigeon, etc. Eventually this technique grows on you to become oneiric, as you experience the story indirectly through dreamy fragments, with subjective underlying content which you must inject into the movie to make it cohere.

Bizarre art-house horror that uses its horror trope as metaphor for commentary on scientific social reform attempts in Poland. Only a superficial glance would think this to be eco-horror. In several ways, this is a follow-up 'aftermath' movie to Królikiewicz's earlier Dancing Hawk. The passive 'trees' are being studied, numbered, experimented on in cold, cruel ways 'for their own benefit', when suddenly a female scientist makes the discovery that trees have emotions. Professors on TV discuss the good they are doing to the trees and how trees need humans rather than the other way around, while her boyfriend makes absurd, surreal acts of protest, forcing the goings-on to appear from a new 'perspective'. Królikiewicz films this in his usual fragmented and challenging approach that asks for audience participation, but it's not as experimental as Dancing Hawk. There are also Biblical references, including saving a baby tree by putting it in an enclosure on the river. When trees start 'committing suicide', or falling down and killing humans, it all escalates into violence, social war and riots. Many trees were harmed in the making of this film; But that's OK since it is for their own good.

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