Beautiful to watch but frustrating to follow, "Lasting" suggests that even passionate young love has its limits, exploring how a smitten Polish couple copes with an accidental killing.

Beautiful to watch but frustrating to follow, “Lasting” suggests that even passionate young love has its limits, exploring how a smitten Polish couple copes with an accidental killing. “It isn’t a crime story,” director Jacek Borcuch explained at Sundance, and sure enough, rather than worrying about cops and consequences, the film focuses solely on how the murder affects the relationship. The more-naked-than-not pair is sexy enough that we want them to last, though Borcuch has more Dostoevskian ideas, better suited to Euro fests than to American release.

As if to underscore the contrasting states of mind, the film opens hot-and-heavy under the Spanish sun, where Michal (Jakub Gierszal) and Karina (Magdalena Berus) are staying with family friends and working in the vineyards. But mostly they’re just having sex — in the grass, in the mud, in the river. It’s enough to make you want to be young again. And Polish.

Michal is so right for her, Karina would jump off a bridge if he asked … and she does, in one of their many gold-baked summer memories. Drinking with friends late into the night, sharing dreams beneath the stars, fixing up a classic motorcycle — it’s as though they’ve stepped into a Latin American novel, and “Lasting” languishes in the rich, erotically charged texture of it all.

And then one day, Michal goes off diving on private property. Humiliated by the macho landowner, he snaps, and bludgeons the man. Suddenly the pic’s tone changes, dwelling on his guilt as he buries the corpse. Shaken, Michal runs back to Poland, where the lighting is different. In Warsaw, the world looks blue, depressed, all the better to mirror this next phase in their relationship.

Wracked with guilt, Michal decides there’s only one person he can tell, Karina, which he does in one of those cliched art-film scenes where the camera lingers across the street, out of earshot, while buses pass between the audience and the characters, who pantomime their reaction through the plate-glass window of a restaurant. A baton passes in this scene, and “Lasting” becomes Karina’s movie, following her reaction to his confession.

But Karina has a secret of her own: She’s pregnant, which escalates the underlying question of whether they belong together. Even if the murder were metaphorical — say, an abstraction meant to test their capacity for lasting — it would pose a problem. Michal has shown that he can’t control his temper, and that’s not the kind of man she wants around her unborn child.

And so she despairs. In scene after scene, she spirals deeper into depression, to the extent that the film stops being sexy (its primary appeal early on). The audience roots for the two to get back together, but the question remains whether that would be the right decision. In a sense, “Lasting” begins where 2011′s “The Loneliest Planet” leaves off, with a relationship-redefining incident disrupting an away-from-home romantic idyll, and then follows that thread, here as Michal tries to mend a connection that can never be the same.

As Karina, Berus is a natural talent, the can’t-look-away type, which helps in scenes that depend more on emotional identification than on dialogue. The result is a striking piece of visual storytelling, as Borcuch relies on lingering, uncut scenes to carry the drama, observed with arm’s-length sensitivity by Michal Englert’s fluid widescreen 35mm cinematography. (The d.p. deservedly won a special jury prize at Sundance, where the pic was one of only four features shown on celluloid.) The effect is voyeuristic yet elliptical, with pieces missing that would have made the couple’s uncertain two-step easier to comprehend.

Lasting

Poland-Spain

Production

A Manana presentation in co-production with Espiral Prods., Krakaw Festival Office in association with Polish Film Institute, Krakow Regional Film Fund, City of Kwidzyn. (International sales: AP Manana, Warsaw.) Produced by Piotr Kobus, Agnieszka Drewno. Co-producers, Alejandro Sacristan, Christine Bernabeu, Izabela Helbin, Rafal Orlicki. Directed, written by Jacek Borcuch.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Michal Englert; editor, Beata Walentowska; music, Daniel Bloom; art director, Elwira Pluta; sound, Maria Chilarecka. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 22, 2013. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Jakub Gierszal, Magdalena Berus, Angela Molina, Juanjo Ballesta, Joanna Kulig, Andrzej Chyra.
(Polish, Spanish dialogue)

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