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ICEDOCS 2020

Review: Lessons of Love

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- In Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja’s touching documentary about a woman desperate to change her life, what the heart wants is not what the Church teaches

Review: Lessons of Love

Heading to the second edition of IceDocs following its world premiere at IDFA, Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja’s Lessons of Love [+see also:
trailer
interview: Małgorzata Goliszewska and …
film profile
]
might tread a familiar, if not unwelcome, path, with their protagonist Jola deciding to change her unfulfilling life at 69 years of age. But although the refrain of “It’s never too late!” has been repeated in the cinema loud and clear for quite a while now, from Finland’s Ladies of Steel [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pamela Tola
film profile
]
to just about anything Diane Keaton happens to star in these days, their film still packs a proper punch in the gut. After all, you can say a lot about change, but as stated in a certain Judd Apatow-helmed comedy, sometimes “the longer you wait, the harder it gets”.

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Even though in Jola’s case, her unhappiness and marital struggles are obvious pretty much from the start – unravelling out there in the open, with her husband, based in Italy, seemingly delighting in humiliating her in front of the camera, too. Just imagining a lifetime of such stomach-churning expletives, not to mention the “drinking and beating” that went along with it, is already unbearably painful. And yet she still finds it hard to just get up and go, with the words “for better or for worse” ringing in the ears of a good Polish Catholic girl. “I always listened to my grandma and the priest,” she says at one point, bitterly, and again turns to the latter in times of doubt. There is something almost surreal, and yet almost too recognisable, about seeing a pained, mature woman being lectured by a young and clueless priest on the nature of human relationships. But even he falls silent when she asks if you can love a man who has been hurting you your whole life. Perhaps. But what for?

Goliszewska and Mateja know better than to try to answer all of that themselves – in their observational film, it’s Jola’s job to figure it out. Still embarrassed to wear glasses in public, like a near-sighted Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire, and with her Marlene Dietrich-like thin brows, she is fascinating to watch: torn between her desire for a road less conventional and her own prejudices, for while the church-sanctioned institutions have clearly failed her, “a woman must be a woman”. These dilemmas are captured very tenderly here, as she proceeds to come out of her shell – at a dance class, while singing, or even with another man, slowly learning to give him a hug or talk about her cold upbringing with grown-up children. As she sits with her friends on the beach, talking about past abuses and all the wrong choices, sadly experienced by most of them, Lessons of Love turns into a story that’s bigger than just one woman, about life lived according to religion or simply just other people’s rules. Rules that always seem to place personal happiness very low on the list of priorities, if it’s there at all. Indeed, the longer you wait, the harder it gets. But the important thing is to do it.

Lessons of Love was produced by Anna Stylinska for Poland’s Widok Films. It was co-produced by HBO Europe, the Pomerania Regional Fund, MX35 Ruzik Wajda Sp j and Aura Films. Autlook Filmsales has the international rights.

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