A wannabe Western set on the Polish-German border just after the Wall came down, “Yuma” knows its influences but not how to use them. Tyro helmer Piotr Mularuk’s low-pulse tale follows an angelic-looking Polish youngster who steals from Teuton stores after the German reunification and takes the increasingly outsized loot across the border with help from his big-bosomed, brothel-running aunt. No points for guessing this can’t last. Pic goes out Aug. 10 in Poland and in the U.K., where Giant Film will release it on an aggressive 60 screens.
In a 1987-set prologue, teen Ziggy (Jakub Gierszal, the emo-in-distress from “Suicide Room”) and his friend, Rysio (Kazimierz Mazur), help an East German kid (Tomasz Schuchardt) who has escaped into Poland reach the West German embassy, though only Rysio takes the money the Teuton offers for their help.
But a couple of years later, the roles are reversed, as Rysio is studying law enforcement and Ziggy has become a practitioner of “juma,” the socialist redistribution of capitalist goods — or, in capitalist parlance, “stealing.” Ziggy gets a hand from his enterprising, shapely aunt Halina (the aptly named Katarzyna Figura), who runs a bar-annex-brothel in the village and knows all the menfolk, including a Polish border-patrol officer who lets Ziggy and his comrades pass into Germany for their raids and then back into Poland in exchange for the odd bottle of cologne.
On paper, the idea of making a film about juma (a practice that occurred after the reunification of Germany) that also references “3:10 to Yuma” seems like a nifty one. But Mularuk, who co-penned the screenplay with Wojciech Gajewicz, isn’t sure how to use that classic film or even Western tropes in general to amplify or at least draw parallels to his own story, despite the fact that the Polish-German border territory in the immediate post-1989 period was semi-lawless and populated with morally ambiguous figures, considered criminals by some and heroes by others.
Some oater references are visible in Magdalena Rutkiewicz and Emilia Skalska’s costumes, particularly the footwear (the early 1990s Poles seem more obsessed with shoes than were Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw put together), and the film occasionally alludes directly to its 1957 model. But “Yuma” never develops into something deeper than an unhurried story in which not a lot is at stake, and the narrative follows a rather predictable arc, right down to the reappearance of gangsters spotted in the film’s opening.
Gierszal looks like a movie star, but has trouble injecting his rather flatly conceived character with anything resembling conflicting emotions. Figura has fun with her more stereotypical role, especially in a late scene of wild abandon. Krzysztof Skonieczny and Jakub Kamienski, as two friends of Gierszal’s, are so devoid of defining characteristics they’re essentially interchangeable.
Shot in widescreen, the pic at least looks respectable, while the score by Jan P. Muchow lays on Western-ish guitar chords. Songs from the period, including Vanilla Ice hip-hop hit “Ice Ice Baby,” help anchor the proceedings.