A fatherless boy tries to tempt fate in “Tricks,” a pitch-perfect portrait of working class life in a provincial town — and of growing up as the much younger brother of an adored older sister. Seriocomic second feature by Polish helmer Andrzej Jakimowski won the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film in the independently programmed Venice Days sidebar, assuring this realistic yet poetic gem extended theatrical exposure and extra promotional support on the continent. Offshore, boutique distribs and broadcasters should take note.
Charming, bittersweet narrative unfolds from the p.o.v. of siblings Stefek (Damian Ul), 6, and Elka (Ewelina Walendziak), 18, and Elka’s car mechanic boyfriend Jerzy (Rafal Guzniczak) during a sun-drenched summer. The siblings live with their shopkeeper mother (Iwona Fornalczyk). Their father left her for another woman when Stefek was very young.
Never playing with other children, precocious, curious Stefek prefers the company of Elka and Jerzy, but he’s also content to wander the streets of his drab mining town near Wroclaw solo, carefully observing how things work, as well as comings and goings at the railway station. Ambitious Elka washes dishes at a beer garden, studies Italian and tries for a position at an Italian firm. Gentle, patient Jerzy loves Elka and her family, but still has an eye for ultra-shapely Violka (Joanna Liszowska), the neighborhood slut.
Stefek’s worldview is shaped by Elka’s constant bargaining with destiny, which she attempts to shape in slyly practical, semi-magical ways. Acknowledging, “she knows tricks,” the boy experiments on his own.
One day, Stefek notices a commuter (Tomasz Sapryk) changing trains who reminds him of his absent father. He structures a risky game with fortune, designed to make the man remain in town and reach his mother’s shop.
Compelling perfs by unconventionally attractive non-pro leads Ul, Walendziak and Guzniczak give the pic a poignant authenticity, spontaneity and uniqueness. Stylization and momentum come from Adam Bajerski’s gorgeous, dappled gold lensing and Tomasz Gassowski’s alternately jazzy and melancholy score.
Pic is dedicated to the helmer’s older sister, who used to make him sit on top of the dresser when he was small to keep him from doing anything silly.