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Individuals against the world. An essay by Piotr Czerkawski

Piotr Czerkawski
27/07/18
BlacKkKlansman, dir. Spike Lee
Meet the Masters at the 18th New Horizons International Film Festival Video Essey: Nicolas Roeg

At the recently completed World Cup, we saw that there is nothing is sweeter than the victory of an underdog. The triumphs of outsiders gives us a temporary feeling that anything is possible and that the world's rigid hierarchies can somehow be questioned. In cinema, we get similar satisfaction when a clever individual manages to outsmart a much more powerful, oppressive collective. This year's New Horizons abounds in such contests, the outcome of which is by no means a foregone conclusion.

In my private dream team, made up of festival rebels, the title character in Simon, the Magician leads the way. Endowed with supernatural abilities, the man from Ildikó Enyedi's film is dragged from Budapest to Paris to help the police solve a mysterious case. Simon is unfamiliar with his surroundings and doesn't speak French, but he surprisingly sees this as a privilege. Only in a foreign world-where he decides in advance to ignore local conventions-can he feel truly free.

At first glance, the title character in Dovlatov can only dream of such freedom. The Soviet writer from Aleksey German Jr.'s film wanders around frosty Leningrad in the autumn in search of jobs suited to his talents. He reacts to fate's ungrateful tricks, which compel him to write articles about the heroes of his socialist homeland, with nothing more than a weak, melancholy smile. Dovlatov behaves this way, however, for a specific reason. He is certain that the censorship preventing the publication of his work will come to an end, and that he'll get justice even if he has to wait for it an absurdly long time.

The title character in Zazie in the Subway has a somewhat wilder temperament. This Louise Malle classic-in both content and form-remains to this day a model of a joyful panache in cinema. It is easy to imagine the resolute Zazie finding common ground with police officer Ron Stallworth, the main character in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. This black cop, with the help of a fellow officer, decides to declare war on the Ku Klux Klan.

Although his opponent appears to be a lot stronger, Ronnie reaches for the most effective weapon possible: a sense of humor. It's thanks to this that he's able to tear down all the pomp of this racist organization, leading to its utter disgrace.

Finally, a few words about a special outsider who could easily disappear in a crowd of seemingly more charismatic characters. I'm talking about the title character in Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro. Ignored by those around him as a boy, he unexpectedly turns out to be have an extraordinary power. Although decades pass and the world races forward, undergoing constant changes, Lazzaro remains the same innocent young man all the time. The passivity with which the protagonist looks at the class inequalities and excesses of Italian society turns out to be specious. The scene in which Lazzaro finally decides to put his mark on his surroundings is a mesmerizing illustration of the power of the powerless.


Piotr Czerkawski

Film critic, journalist, PhD student at the University of Wrocław (prepares a paper on the work of Eric Rohmer). Winner of the Polish Film Institute Award in the category "Film criticism." He constantly cooperates with the monthly "KINO" magaizne and the Filmweb.pl. A well-known Polish director called him "a little crazy, but all in all fair."


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