Sunday, March 03, 2019

NYICFF ’19: Double Trouble

Pablo Picasso was so taken with Warsaw in 1948, he painted a very Picasso-like version the city’s mermaid symbol on a wall in a freshly constructed housing complex. Alas, the flat residents convinced the Communist Party philistines to let them paint over it in 1953. Poof, an original Picasso destroyed, except maybe not. The missing Picasso mural serves as the Macguffin in Marta Karwowska’s Double Trouble, which screens as part of the 2019 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Old people are mean. That seems to be the takeaway from this film, but Julka really isn’t in a position to judge. She has never been particularly social herself. She was supposed to visit her mother and father in Canada during her boarding school’s summer vacation, but she is stuck cooling her heels at her not-so warm and welcoming Aunt’s Warsaw flat, until her parents can be bothered to arrange her tickets.

Initially, she doesn’t think much of Olek (and neither do we), but when thieves steal a set of rare architectural plans from her Aunt’s flat (it was sort of her fault), he is the only person available and willing to help her recover them. As they start nosing around, the kids discover the plans in question were for a now abandoned building that a gang of thieves has been tearing apart looking for a rather unusual treasure: the missing Picasso mermaid. Although presumed destroyed, Julka deduces her Aunt’s parents managed to save it, hiding it someplace in the building now scheduled for demolition.

Unfortunately, they are now in danger from the desperate gang of matronly biddies that have been ransacking the joint. To find the treasure, Julka and Olek (with his fuzzball doggie Meatball) will have to work together, but they are much more inclined to bicker, like a junior version of Tracy and Hepburn.

Double Trouble is a generally okay film, but it definitely skews towards a decidedly younger demographic. This is particularly true of the broad humor and the impossible-to-miss lessons to learn. Frankly, more mature viewers will be disappointed there is not considerably more exploration of the Picasso Mermaid’s backstory, because it is a clever use of some fascinating true-life cultural history.

Hanna Hryniewicka and Jakub Janota-Bzowski are perfectly fine as the two young busybodies, but they were clearly guided towards rather broad, unsubtle performances. That more or less goes for the adults as well. Double Trouble is the sort of film people think of when they hear a term like “children’s movie,” which is fine. However, NYICFF has a history of programming more sophisticated selections, such as Room 213, a ghost story produced for and starring kids that happens to be genuinely scary. Double Trouble cannot compare with it, but neither can 90% of the gory slashers released via VOD with little or no fanfare.

Technically, Double Trouble is quite an over-achiever. Cinematographer Kacper Fertacz and production designer Julia Junosza-Szaniawska make it much more atmospheric than it needs or arguably deserves to be. The older elementary school set should find it diverting, but Double Trouble will not make much impression on parents when it screens again tonight (3/3) and Saturday the 16th, as part of this year’s NYICFF.