An orphaned youth entertains an unhealthy yearning for his older, emotionally and financially unstable half-sister, making him blind to the more appropriate attentions of a resourceful gypsy girl his own age in “Shameless.” Far less sensationalistic than the title suggests, this attractively shot debut feature from helmer Filip Marczewski stands out from other small-town Poland tales by virtue of its unusual Romany character, realistic sense of detail and committed thesping from a talented central quartet. Offshore fests need feel no shame in screening this quality item, which could also score Euro TV berths.
As the summer holiday begins, handsome 18-year-old Tadek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, “All That I Love”) turns up unexpectedly at the flat he used to share with his mother and sexy half-sibling, Anka (Agnieszka Grochowska, “In Darkness”). To Tadek’s chagrin, Anka is not pleased to see him. She’s on her way out with Andrzej (Maciej Marczewski, the helmer’s brother), the latest in a long line of unsuitable boyfriends.
Jealous Tadek takes an instant dislike to ultra-smooth operator Andrzej, who is not only the leader of the local neo-Nazi group but married to boot. While trying to depose this rival for Anka’s affections, Tadek meets Irmina (appealing Anna Prochniak, a real find in her first film role) a bright, confident gypsy girl whose ambition (belittled by her family) is to become a doctor. Irmina sees Tadek as husband material and a way out of the arranged marriage her father has planned.
In expanding on his prize-winning 2006 short, “Melodrama,” Marczewski (working with co-scribe Grzegorz Loszewski) added the subplots involving Irmina and the neo-Nazi attacks on the local gypsy community. Even though these threads aren’t as well integrated into the pic’s brief running time as they could be (indeed, they leave viewers definitely wanting more of bold Irmina), they nonetheless complement the central tale of the incestuous half-siblings, making the entire film an argument for tolerance.
In what is perhaps the cinema’s most natural depiction of incest since Louis Malle’s “Murmur of the Heart,” the main story is plausibly told, never shading the film’s wistful tone into something lurid. The nuanced performances of Kosciukiewicz and Grochowska make convincing the lonely youth’s single-minded adoration of his troubled sister, as well as her desperate need for love and affection, something that ultimately outweighs her better judgment.
As befits a work by the son of established Polish director Wojciech Marczewski, the craft package is topnotch. Especially worthy of note are Szymon Lenkowski’s sensitive lensing, which allows the characters’ wordless looks to speak volumes, and Rafal Listopad’s smooth cutting.