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Review: Boylesque


- Bogna Kowalczyk's film, winner of the Emerging International Filmmaker Award at Hot Docs, takes a brief look at the past and swiftly moves on to the future

Review: Boylesque

Director Bogna Kowalczyk – who received the Emerging International Filmmaker Award at Hot Docs this year for Boylesque [+see also:
interview: Bogna Kowalczyk
film profile
(see the news) – takes on Poland’s oldest drag queen in her film (“She is older than RuPaul!” yells someone here, proving that the library is open and everyone can read up on each other for filth). And yet, surprisingly enough, Boylesque doesn’t dwell on what used to be for too long, save for an old photograph here and there. The glorious Lulla La Polaca, or Andrzej Szwan, has a past, obviously – everyone does. But Kowalczyk goes out of her way to prove that she also has a future.

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It's an important decision, and one that makes this film a bit of a discovery. It would be much easier – one assumes – to turn it into a story about drag in communist Poland, with its pioneers sharing risqué anecdotes and war scars. Or even to focus solely on Lulla’s performing and everything that goes with it, including the torture that is putting on tights. Instead, the Polish director opts for a film that’s much more freewheeling, summery even, a tender portrait of someone who might be well in her eighties, yet is still figuring things out.

Sometimes, it seems like Kowalczyk is the one who is forcing her protagonist to believe in life once again – Lulla, too old for the young and too young for the old, sure is tired. She has no qualms about planning her funeral already, not too thrilled with the pumpkin-like urns on display. She wants a stiletto-shaped one, and she will do her damnedest to get it, Catholic Poland or not. There is a lot of such attention to detail in Boylesque. When grieving for a friend, who just gave up one day, she recalls that he asked for some strawberries before his death, provided they were already sweet enough. It’s funny how, at the end of the day, these are the things we remember.

It's a love story, Boylesque – there is love for the person drifting into her memories and thoughts, and hope for love to be shared once again, preferably with someone aged 25-99, according to Lulla. What’s so beautiful here is that a story that could easily go from pain to more pain, and show violent rejections and a lifetime of intolerance, doesn’t really go there at all. It inspires much more than it frightens. When Lulla goes out in the streets, dressed up and made up, she is met with affection. She is embraced.

One could say that such a take, while touching, is not realistic and that most neighbours wouldn’t be too thrilled with a mannequin in an evening gown pointing the way to a party. But it’s crucial to see these scenes. It’s crucial to see happiness. Cinema can spark a revolution by depicting injustice and oppression, at least in theory, but maybe it can also do so by making you want to join in with the colourful crowd instead of curling up in some dark corner again. That seems to be Lulla’s way, too.

Boylesque was produced by Poland’s Haka Films, HBO Max and Czech outfit Bionaut. It was co-financed by the Czech Film Fund, the Mazovia Region and the City of Warsaw.

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