Starring: Mateusz Wieclawek, Dorota Lukasiewicz-Kwietniewska, Paulina Walendziak
Directed by: Jagoda Szelc
The best recipe for avoiding any sophomore slump could be to make sure that the second effort is very different from the debut film. This is at least what Jagoda Szelc seems to suggest after dumbfounding the audience of the Gdynia Film Festival with the metaphysical thriller Tower. Bright Day.
Monument, her second feature has a distinct raison d’être, since it was made with her fellow pupils at the Łódź Film School only a few steps away from graduating. The Polish filmmaker wrote and assembled the movie using 26,000 USD (around 100,000 PLN) and offered her directorial resources to 20 acting students in their fourth year at the internationally-acclaimed Polish university. They all heavily contributed to construct this film together with the remaining school departments.
Monument centers around the journey of a group of catering trainees thrown into a shabby provincial hotel to complete their internship. The despotic manager, played by Dorota Lukasiewicz-Kwietniewska (who had a role also in Tower. Bright Day), advocates a strict division of labor in the workplace and tries to instill harsh discipline in the interns. All the boys are renamed to “Paweł” and the girls to “Ania” to make it easier for the guests to memorize the names of hotel staff. For some of the participants, the internship is a humiliating experience.
Overall, Szelc does not give up the idea of marking her territory as a cinematic auteur in Monument. Some daring jump-cuts and the sound editing made of post-industrial noises are proof of that.
Moreover, the fact that Szelc gave the actors the chance to express themselves liberatingly, all without renouncing her directorial vein, is indeed the main asset of her edgy second feature film. In the epilogue the actors deliver a Grotowski-esque group performance in front of the camera. Mateusz Wieclawek’s feverish acting in the finale brings to mind Ryszard Cieslak’s legendary theatrical performances in The Constant Prince back in the Sixties. The gifted filmmaker shot this engaging ritual showing respect for the young thesps’ physical and emotional scores.