Floating Skyscrapers (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is apart of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
If there was but one thing we learned from the critical bludgeoning taken by the latest from Atom Egoyan last month, it’s that there’s a weariness toward the way Cannes tends to favour established filmmakers returning to the Croisette for the umpteenth time. That’s a problem nicely skirted by the competition criteria here in Cluj, which welcomes former competitors back under the auspices of its “Usual Suspects” sidebar and reserves the major slots for debut and sophomore directors. It’s a rarity enough in itself, then, that Tomasz Wasilewski is back in a competitive capacity; to have him here right on the heels of last year’s In a Bedroom, perhaps, teases strong chances for the productive Polish helmer.
…Wasilewski has given strong indication of his ability to elevate even the most familiar material with the aesthetic invention in which he enshrouds it.
Certainly stronger than last year, at least: if his prior effort’s excellent use of visual characterisation painted him a directorial talent to follow, its lax approach to inveigling that with a broader emotional outlet marked his writing an early Achilles’ heel. But in turning his talents with Floating Skyscrapers to a story of such convention you’re sure to have seen before, Wasilewski has given strong indication of his ability to elevate even the most familiar material with the aesthetic invention in which he enshrouds it. He has crafted here a tale that’s typical, true, but where the austere uniqueness of In a Bedroom cost that character our care, the opportune emotional beats of this coming-out drama find in his filmmaking a sensitivity and passion that might make them seem brand new.
So it is when surly swimmer Kuba, unsure of his life in an apartment with his younger girlfriend and mother, is introduced to us being blown in the toilet cubicle of his practice pool. It’s the stuff not just of countless gay films before it, but countless leisure centre-set ones too; it’s almost as though the movie stands as an exercise in exception, Wasilewski challenging himself to make meaningfully fresh this rote narrative setup. And refresh he does, his striking cinematic language conveying character through camerawork with a nuance and confidence few movies can command. Relative newcomer DP Jakub Kijowski does stellar work in shifting our literal outlook on Kuba to match the shifting sense of involvement in his life, the evolving depth of field a simple but sublime touch that allows the deeper implications to go unsaid but seen.
Developing the efficient dynamic of In a Bedroom, Wasilewski and editor Aleksandra Gowin make much of pseudo-fantastical sequences: be they beneath the water or atop a train, these near-expressive interludes offer a sense of Kuba’s self-realisation that’s true without ever being trite. The few fleeting montage sequences of POV car park ascension nicely skirt the sort of obviousness of imagery a weaker collaboration might grant them; it’s not only for these scenes we get the sense of a movie that knows exactly where it’s going. That, when it gets there, is a point that perhaps belabours perils of self-repression in a conclusion as contrived as much of this story, but it’s again the aesthetic distinction of Wasilewski that, with the mother of all closing shots, gives convention a new lease of life.
Relative newcomer DP Jakub Kijowski does stellar work in shifting our literal outlook on Kuba to match the shifting sense of involvement in his life…
It’s to the credit of lead Mateusz Banasiuk that we feel so deeply for Kuba by that end, given the extensity of machismo in which he’s originally cast. Bartosz Gelner’s as much to thank as the man he slowly falls for: Eros isn’t far when these two share the screen, and with a satisfying subplot all of his own to handle—including a terrific coming-out-to-family scene—Gelner is sure to make his mark as co-lead. Like their director, the strength of these players forgives—even forgets—the familiarity of the material their great work serves. As it is in life, so it is at the movies: just because we’ve seen a story before doesn’t rob it of its ability to affect us.
Floating Skyscrapers conveys character through camerawork with a nuance and confidence few movies can command.