email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

KARLOVY VARY 2023 Proxima

Review: Imago

by 

- The second feature by Olga Chajdas touches on the topics of love, sex, freedom, art and mental-health issues in the style of a 1980s post-punk song

Review: Imago
Lena Góra in Imago

When it comes to natural-born outsiders, their time seemingly never comes, even if the stars align so that they are at their very peak when times are changing. One such outsider is the heroine of Olga Chajdas’ second feature, Imago [+see also:
interview: Olga Chajdas, Lena Góra
film profile
]
, which has just premiered in the Proxima competition of the 57th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Ela (Lena Góra, an up-and-coming actress and screenwriter) is a young woman, an aspiring artist living in the Tricity area on the Baltic coast of Poland in the revolutionary late 1980s. Solidarność is about to overthrow the communist government and take the country in a new, democratic direction, but this is not one of Ela’s concerns. Misunderstood by her family, led by her simple-minded mother (the great Bogusława Schubert, of The Double Life of Véronique [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Europa Europa fame), Ela tries to carve out a niche for herself in life through art and meditation. Prone to fits, a situation which leads to a stint in a psychiatric hospital, Ela actually has a bipolar personality disorder that drives her inner demons to torment her.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)
Hot docs EFP inside

In this environment, she can only count on her on-again-off-again boyfriend Tomek, who does not always understand her, but is more than willing to play along with her madness. But it is actually Stach, a tough-looking, self-taught painter, who ignites her flame of passion in the romantic sense, while the band whose club gig she interrupts by coming up on stage and starting to improvise the lyrics and singing sparks her flame of artistic inspiration. When she joins them, Ela is on the way to becoming a national, or at least a regional, post-punk heroine, Malwina The Cosmic Mother, until she realises that she is pregnant, which leads to an attempt to adjust to the norms of a whole other type of horror, known as parenthood.

Co-written by Chajdas (best known for her award-winning 2018 effort Nina [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) and lead actress Lena Góra, Imago actually tells the story of Góra’s own mother, Ela, an artist who never got the recognition she had hoped for. She has the thankless task of playing a character so painfully close to her, but she dives into it head first, relying on her perfect instincts to create one of the most memorable arthouse film characters of late. Chajdas’s directing is also intuitive and energetic, using the striking cinematography of Tomasz Naumik (known for his work on Claire Denis’ High Life [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Claire Denis
film profile
]
and Agnieszka Holland’s Mr. Jones [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile
]
), which captures that late-1980s shift in culture, Pavel Hrdlička’s rhythmic editing and the fitting music composed by Andrzej Smolik to recreate the dark and gloomy, but still very much alive-and-kicking, atmosphere of post-punk music.

Finally, Imago serves well as a compilation of horrors, both personal and societal, in its classical, three-act structure. The first act, dealing with the terror of being young and misunderstood in a grey, hopeless place, and the third one, broaching the horrors of not being ready for caring for a baby, work perfectly thanks to their manic energy, while a lull in the tempo is sensed somewhere in the middle of the film, when its protagonist unsuccessfully tries to fit in as a “normal” person. Nevertheless, the slower pace is not so dramatic as to seriously hinder the film as a whole. Imago is as impressive as a killer song lurking somewhere on the B-side of a record by a semi-obscure but still great band from the 1980s.

Imago is a Polish-Dutch-Czech co-production by Apple Film Production, in co-production with Topkapi Films, Moloko Film, Canal+ Poland and House Media Company.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy