Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Transitions: All That I Love

Punk rock is supposed to be subversive. For Communist Poland poised on the brink of Martial Law, it was downright revolutionary, in spades. Yet, young Janek and his friends were not trying to be political. Of course, this is exactly why their music is so threatening in Jacek Borcuch’s All That I Love (trailer here), Poland’s most recent submission for official foreign language Academy Award consideration, which screens this Saturday as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s new retrospective, Transitions: Recent Polish Cinema.

Janek’s brother also plays in his hardcore punk band, All That I Love, affectionately known as ATIL for short. His mother is a nurse, which is all fine and good, but his father is a mid-level officer in the Polish Navy. Ordinarily, this is a good thing, leading to a few modest perks for the family. However, when courting Basia Martyniak, the very cute daughter of Solidarity organizers, it is not so hot. The rebellious nature of his music does not cut much ice with the Martyniaks either, but Basia is impressed.

Though not necessarily impressed himself, Janek’s father is still supportive enough to arrange rehearsal space on the local base. Clearly, the naval captain is not the typical Communist apparatchik, a fact not lost on Sokołowski, the neighborhood Party snitch. Resenting the boys’ ill-concealed interest in his Cougarish wife, Sokołowski targets them where it will hurt the most—their music.

Throughout the film, Borcuch juggles a number of disparate elements quite sure-handedly, including a rather tender coming-of-age romance and some paint-peeling punk, based on the music of the era-appropriate Polish band WC. It is also a story of human tragedy, directly resulting from an inherently oppressive political ideology. Yet, part of the irony of ATIL is that Janek’s family will probably be far better off in the new Poland that rises from the ashes of Communism for having gone through their tribulations in the film. Unfortunately, viewers can surmise the short term will be rather long and difficult for them in the December of 1981.

There is no denying the charismatic appeal of Borcuch’s teen-aged leads. Mateusz Kościukiewicz’s Janek could have walked out of Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do into Jaruzelski’s police state, while as Basia, Olga Frycz resembles a considerably younger and warmer Nicole Kidman. Yet, arguably Andrzej Chrya serves as the lynchpin of the film, investing Janek’s father with humanity and integrity that will first challenge and then reconfirm all our assumptions of Poland’s Communist military.

With convincing period detail, Elwira Pluta’s design team faithfully recreates the bleak look of Martial Law era Poland, when Brutalist-style Soviet housing projects were considered desirable. Nevertheless, despite the apparent downer ending mandated by history, ATIL is a surprisingly uplifting film, deriving optimism from the spirit of its characters. An excellent kick-off for the FSLC’s Transitions series, ATIL screens this Saturday (9/10) and next Thursday (9/15) at the Walter Reade Theater.