In A Bedroom (W Sypialni)
Poland (2012) Dir. Tomasz Wasilewski
Arthouse cinema is infamous for not spoon-feeding the audience in terms of explaining the story and understanding the characters, but some filmmakers go even further and just drop us in the middle of a tale, such as Polish auteur Tomasz Wasilewski with his debut offering.
The central character is Edyta (Katarzyna Herman), a transient woman around forty who sleeps in her car eating biscuits and other snacks she sneakily shoves in her mouth whilst perusing a supermarket. On a better night she finds male dates on the internet but repays their custom by drugging them, spending the night in luxury, emptying their wallets then fleeing the next morning.
Edyat hits a brick wall when her plan backfires one time with Patryk (Tomasz Tyndyk), having to leave her car and possessions behind when he wakes up early and catches on to her scam. After betraying the charity of kind actress Klaudia (Agata Buzek) Edyat is back on the streets, forced to retrieve her stuff from Patryk’s house. Surprisingly Patryk offers Edyat in for breakfast.
What makes this film so frustrating is how Wasilewski hooks us with an enigmatic and curious lead character and her unexplained circumstances which are crying out for exposition and exploration but gives us nothing. It develops into something with equal potential although adding further to the mystery, but scant details drip-fed over the course of the perfunctory 71-minute run time are little help.
Because of this we are left wondering what Wasilewski is trying to say, if indeed there is a message here. Much like how World Cinema opens windows for us Johnny foreigners to other cultures, there is a sense that Wasilewski might be making a comment on modern day Warsaw, perhaps highlighting the plight of the forty-somethings society left behind.
Or he could be making a human study on a woman trapped in a loveless or dangerous marriage, which is the most assumption we are led to make. From the start we get the impression that Edyat is running away from something, her sordid social interactions rife with awkwardness and lack of confidence on her part until her pernicious master plan takes effect.
Despite this there is an air of poise and steely determination in how Edyat walks around shops and deftly liberates a biscuit from its wrapper and into her mouth undetected, or refreshes herself after a night on a park bench by walking into a fountain. We have to applaud her guile in being able to pull off the fraudulent ages she boasts in her internet profiles, and of course her drugging scam which proves frequently successful.
The odd couple relationship which forms with Patryk may be a cliché but it’s one vital to the plot and lifts the mood from glum and directionless to lively and focused. Edyat insists on a no questions rule, which Patryk mostly adheres to but cannot resist the odd query here and there, as much for his benefit as the audiences.
All we get is a brief mention of a son who may be a late teen/young adult and a husband we are left to presume is possibly controlling in some manner. From this we surmise that perhaps Edyat’s plan of survival through turning tricks is either supreme confidence in her looks, or conversely a need to feel wanted sexually again.
Or from another angle, it could be that she has never felt any worth beyond a housewife and mother, and this need for excitement stems from reclaiming her independence or simply doing the only thing she is good at. What stirs this assumption is how alive Edyat becomes with Patryk; in one scene an evening of drink, film and music sees Edyat letting her hair down like she were a teen, bringing with it a complete personality change.
Patryk is also a blank slate with his background and personal situation shrouded in mystery. A phone call alludes to a child he himself may have but nothing more is revealed and Edyat doesn’t ask. Is she not interested or does she not care? A reflection on her own secret litany of issues or a conscious effort not to rock the boat?
And what does Patryk see in someone whom he knows is dishonest? This matter is overlooked and Patryk instead just seems happy to have female company he enjoys and seems to have feelings for. However every time Patryk tries to initiate something physical Edyat pushes him away and the mood is spoiled. The spectre of the past haunting her or a fear of getting involved again?
It won’t come as shock to anyone that Wasilewski goes for the Abbas Kiarostami ending of literally stopping the film dead just as it was heading somewhere. There is leaving things open and the people wanting more, then there shutting the door in their faces – it is more the latter than the former, although somewhat befitting the taciturn and murky narrative that precedes it.
We should be grateful Wasilewski isn’t a director who makes films with excessive lingering shots or protracted scenes of domestic activity, keeping the pacing brisk and the energy upbeat with traditional arthouse sensibilities intact. He also has a cheeky sense of humour – actress Klaudia is in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, famed for its “kindness of strangers” themes, something Edyat immediately abuses!
The cast is small yet Katarzyna Herman stands out like a giant, dominating every scene with her nuanced essaying of the complex Edyat, showing the human being behind the stoic and beguiling façade. This commanding performance holds the film together, distracting us from the lack of forthcoming information and answers.
Debatably a little too arcane and obtuse for its own good to connect with audiences beyond the avant-garde faithful, In A Bedroom is an assured and competent debut from Wasilewski, heralding the arrival of an exciting new voice in world cinema, and a solid foundation to build on.