×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘My Friend the Polish Girl’

Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek's intriguing, audacious mock-doc probes the exploitation of an immigrant actor by an outwardly empathetic auteur.

Director:
Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek
With:
Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Friedman-Cohen
Release Date:
Nov 29, 2019

1 hour 27 minutes

The mock-documentary is a largely played-out genre, all too often used as vehicle for cheap satire or puffed-up intrigue. In their intriguing, intractable debut feature “My Friend the Polish Girl,” however, directing duo Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek find some spiky new life in the form, using it to pointedly expose the narcissism and ethical shortcomings of many a self-styled, self-reflexive nonfiction auteur — and in turn, to metaphorically reflect on immigrant exploitation in Brexit-era Britain. If that sounds like a lot to take on, it is: Announcing itself as a truth-seeking character study of lonely, London-based Polish actor Alicja (in fact played by Aneta Piotrowska), the film grabs at so many thematic strands — further including toxic female friendship, urban alienation and abusive sexual manipulation — that it can’t substantially sort through them all. Still, the attempt is audacious and stimulating.

From its cramped, off-the-cuff shooting style (mostly in washed-out monochrome) to its persuasive ensemble, “My Friend the Polish Girl” mostly pulls off the documentary pretense with wily skill. Still, even viewers coming to it cold may sense something amiss in the introductory voiceover of our predominantly off-screen narrator Katie (Emma Friedman-Cohen), an American filmmaker in search of a human film subject with which to make her name: “I needed someone real, someone with a truth, someone hurt,” she says with deadpan glibness, sounding so much the stereotype of a parasitic doc-con artist that one can already sense the film’s perspective and its fictional maker’s are not set to be one and the same.

Either way, she finds exactly what she’s looking for in the coolly beautiful, 32-year-old Alicja, who has been living in the UK for 12 years without, it seems, establishing any kind of social circle beyond her mild-mannered British boyfriend Michael (Daniel Barry) — who regards the effortfully provocative presence of Katie in their lives with hostile suspicion. The more time we spend with Alicja, as she attends auditions for low-rent acting jobs, dolefully attempts to engage Facebook friends for coffee or idly hangs out in her North London shoebox apartment, the more it seems she and Katie may be well-matched sociopaths.

Popular on Variety

Yet as the one wielding the camera over another hungry for its gaze in any context, Katie’s role slips all too easy from ally to exploiter: In a matter of months, Michael moves out and the filmmaker takes his place, with Alicja under her surveillance almost every waking hour, and probably a few non-waking ones too. An uneasy, gradually chilling centerpiece scene sees Alicja stripping for Katie’s lens, but what initially seems a mutually flirtatious tease morphs into a disturbing, dubiously consensual channeling of past sexual abuse. Is Katie simply in love with her subject, or does she secretly wish to break her? And is Alicja herself — evidently a gifted actor, though she can only get cast as a Russian hooker in a scuzzy crime pic — more in control than she lets on?

Banaszkiewicz and Dymek’s script presents the shifting balance of power between the two with winking ambiguity throughout: as a kind of “Single White Female” psychothriller turned elaborately inside-out, with the filmmaker as possessive stalker, the film is often witty and genuinely discombobulating. As an indirect allegory for British’s current breakdown in native-immigrant sympathies, however, the film is sketchier and less satisfying: Whether Alicja is being colonized, exoticized or actively bullied by the camera hard to determine from scene to scene, while the nature of Katie’s own outsider identity is scarcely touched upon.

More deftly, “My Friend the Polish Girl” marks the limitations of Katie’s perspective and human understanding through the affectations of her filmmaking: The film’s images are frequently graffiti-sprayed with modish but meaningless hashtags and emoji, as well as self-important chapter titles like “The Provocation” and “The Ending.” (Not the actual ending, naturally — such is the heavily meta self-consciousness of Katie’s auteurism.) If all these tics begin to grate even in quote marks, proceedings are frequently given a bracing slap across the face by Piotrowska’s superb, unsettling performance, which increasingly hints at real pain and sensuality behind Alicja’s chilly, impassive surface: a performance of a performer protecting her humanity, perhaps, from a camera she doesn’t entirely trust.

Film Review: 'My Friend the Polish Girl'

Reviewed online, London, Nov. 28, 2019. (In Rotterdam, Edinburgh festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: (Poland-U.K.) A Subliminal Films release of a Warsaw Pact Films production in association with PS Film, Polish Film Institute. (International sales: Antipode, Moscow.) Producers: Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek, Sebastian Petryk.

Crew: Directors, screenplay: Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek. Camera (color/B&W): Michal Dymek. Editor: Mateusz Dymek, Matylda Dymek. Music: Tara Creme.

With: Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Friedman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Andy Abbott, Darren Rose, Max Davis.

More Film

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    COLA Announces California On-Location Awards Winners

    “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Dolemite is My Name,” and HBO’s “Ballers” are among the winners of this year’s COLA awards. The COLAs recognize location managers, public employees and other professionals who help facilitate on-location production across the Golden State. This year’s awards program was held at the Universal Hilton. Finalists and winners are [...]

  • French movie director Jean Luc Godard

    How Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard Immortalized Each Other (Guest Column)

    With the passing of Anna Karina, a curtain has fallen on the French New Wave, that fabled cinematic movement that brought fame to the man who made her name, Jean-Luc Godard. Yes, Godard is still with us, as is “Breathless” star Jean-Paul Belmondo (practically the last of the living New Wave legends), but his moviemaking [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    Box Office: Clint Eastwood Suffers Worst Opening in Four Decades With 'Richard Jewell'

    Clint Eastwood might end up with a lump of box office coal after “Richard Jewell” sputtered in its domestic debut. Despite critical acclaim, Warner Bros.’ drama about the security guard falsely accused by the media for playing a part in the 1996 Olympics bombing ignited with a dismal $5 million from 2,502 theaters. It’s a [...]

  • (from left) Tom (Henry Golding) and

    Emilia Clarke's 'Last Christmas' Crosses $100 Million at Global Box Office

    Universal’s “Last Christmas,” a romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, surpassed $100 million in global ticket sales. The milestone is a win for original fare, one that is especially impressive considering the movie was skewered by critics for its wacky twist ending. After six weeks in theaters, “Last Christmas” has earned $34.4 million [...]

  • DSCF0855.RAF

    'Jumanji 2' Rules Overseas Box Office With $85 Million

    Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” powered international box office charts, collecting $85 million from 34 markets over the weekend. The action-packed sequel kicked off in North America with $60 million for a global start of $145 million. “Jumanji: The Next Level” debuted in a handful of foreign territories last weekend, bringing box office receipts to [...]

  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS:

    Disney Plus Signs Exclusive Distribution Deal With Canal Plus in France

    Ahead of its launch in France on March 31, 2020, Disney Plus has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Canal Plus Group, the country’s leading pay-TV company. The deal, which was first reported in the French newspaper Les Echos and confirmed by Canal Plus Group CEO Maxime Saada on his Twitter account, marks a new [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content