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FILMS / REVIEWS Poland

Review: Mister T.

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- Marcin Krzyształowicz directs a charmingly surreal, fake biopic of a 1950s writer who, forbidden from publishing his books, comes up with a fictional story that would demolish communism

Review: Mister T.
Paweł Wilczak in Mister T.

Those wishing to revisit black-and-white, mid-20th century Poland as pictured in Ida [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile
]
and Cold War [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile
]
should consider adding Marcin Krzyształowicz’s Mister T [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marcin Krzyształowicz
film profile
]
. [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marcin Krzyształowicz
film profile
]
to their watchlist. But while Paweł Pawlikowski’s two films were romantic, dramatic and sensual, this one is lovely, surreal and witty, filled with jazz music and vivid characters.

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The story takes place in the early 1950s — Pawlikowski’s Ida and Zula are only babies when the eponymous T. (an elegant Paweł Wilczak) roams the Warsaw of the Stalinist era. The city, still bearing wounds from the war, is dark, cold and hostile to T., a literary genius censored and forbidden from publishing any books. He barely makes a living by giving private lessons, and has an affair with one of his high school students (the wonderful Maria Sobocińska, who emulates the charm of 1950s film stars). T. befriends aspiring journalist Filak — who reports him to secret police — and visits other writers, some as poor as him, others living more comfortably as lap dogs to the regime. But most of all, T. tries to stay alive, in the creative sense as well. He keeps a diary and works on a new novel, one which involves an attack on the Palace of Science and Culture – the tallest building in Warsaw and a symbol of Soviet oppression. When the secret police learns about T.’s literary concept, they consider him a terrorist and decide to persecute him.

The confusion between what is real and what is imagined is also a narrative strategy adopted by Krzyształowicz himself: what we see onscreen is a lovely mixture of T.’s daily life and of scraps from his upcoming novel: for example, a sequence shows masked men preparing an assault. The story, however, remains clear and consistent, in part thanks to strong performances from Wilczak, Sobocińska and Sebastian Stankiewicz (Filak), who was awarded at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia earlier this year. Krzyształowicz, a respected and established filmmaker in Poland (his break-through film was the 2012 WWII drama Manhunt [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), tells a cautionary tale that is smart, funny, metaphorical and literary beautiful – cinematographer Adam Bajerski won the main award in the Polish Film Competition of Camerimage IFF in November.

Mister T. is an enchanting story about a man who stands tall no matter what, but also an uplifting tale about the power of the freedom of mind – the only “space” no regime can penetrate or invade. The action is set in the darkest decade of Polish post-war history, yet it has a modern feel: artists all over the world experience pressure from regimes, dictatorships or political parties which expect art to serve the interests of the state. But as one Scottish warrior would say: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom”.

Mister T. was produced by Jarosław Boliński through Propeller Films. Local distributor Kino Świat will release the film on 25 December. International rights are available.

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