A sibling rivalry and a random act of savagery provide the backdrop for Polish director Greg Zglinski to explore primal themes of cowardice, guilt and redemption in “Courage,” his tightly scripted follow-up to his 2004 debut, “One Long Winter Without Fire.” A modern-day take on the story of Cain and Abel employing two of Polish cinema’s hardest-working male stars, this precisely lensed moral tale may be a tad heavy-handed for theatrical play offshore. Still, it should excite plenty of discussion on the fest circuit.
Essaying a different sort of tortured soul than the one he plays in Polish Oscar submission “In Darkness,” Robert Wieckiwicz is Fred, a rough, unschooled sort who manages his ailing father’s Internet empire in a quiet suburb of Lodz and resents his college-educated younger brother, Jurek (Lukasz Simlat), who recently returned from the U.S. loaded with ambitious ideas for the company. Feeling that he has pulled more than his fair share of parental-care duty, Fred also feels bitter about Jurek’s two hyperactive kids, since he hasn’t been able to have a child with his hairdresser wife, Viola (Gabriela Muskala, “Winter”).
Fred tries to gain the upper hand, rudely dismissing overtures from the corporate types Jurek is courting, and panicking his brother with daredevil driving. Nonetheless, widower Jurek has the sympathies of their snobbish and intimidating parents (Marian Dziedziel, and Anna Tomaszewska) and also those of motherly Viola, who yearns to care for her nephew and niece, leaving Fred feeling angry and isolated.
As the antagonistic siblings take the train to town at the 20-minute mark, a gang of hooligans boards and harasses a young woman (Karolina Kominek). Although Fred tells Jurek not to get involved, the younger man tries to intervene and is beaten for his troubles. Slow to react and hesitant in the face of the youths’ violence, Fred fails to save his brother from an even worse fate.
After the fast-paced opening section, which economically establishes the brothers’ antipathy and various other discontents, the pic loses one kind of tension while playing with another: When will Fred’s family become aware of his new, more embarrassing form of impotence? While the screenplay, co-written by Janusz Marganski and Zglinski, cleverly makes the Internet more than a mere backdrop to the story, some other story threads come off as less credible, particularly Fred’s single-handed tracking down of the criminals.
During the seven years since he helmed his first feature, Zglinski directed numerous episodes of Polish TV serials, which perhaps accounts for his tendency to extract slightly overstated performances from his thesps. His placement of the camera is a bit subtler, with angles and compositions often expressing more than the actors’ words.
Tech credits are solid, particularly production design, as differences in clothing and car types instantly telegraph the gulf between the brothers’ sensibilities. Kudos are also due to the propulsive, sparingly used score by Jacek Grudzien and Mariusz Ziemba.
Pic nabbed a special jury prize and an actor nod for Wieckiwicz at the recent Warsaw fest.