Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mariusz Wilczynski’s Kill It and Leave This Town

1970s Lodz was a perfectly representative city of Poland under Communism. It was industrial, depressed, and oppressively sinister. At least, that is how animator Mariusz Wilczynski, or his animated alter-ego remembers it. Time and events blend together as he delves into the nightmarish memories buried in his subconscious. Maybe this all happened him or maybe some of it happened to his family, but it all haunts him just the same throughout the darkly trippy Kill It and Leave This Town, which opens today via Anthology Film Archives’ virtual cinema.

Plenty of awful things happen in
Kill, but its narrative remains elusive. There is a filmmaker, perhaps not unlike Wilczynski, who hopes to finally finish a long-in-the-works project, very much like the eleven-years-in-the-making Kill. He still visits his ailing mother in the hospital, even though he [presumably] had a very difficult childhood. Who didn’t, in this harsh world? Yet, probably the most harrowing recollections come from the old man with a bird-ish beak, with whom the filmmaker shares a train car.

If you are a sheltered waif, who is triggered by disturbed sights and sounds (such as crying children), you will have a hard time with this film. However, you will be missing out a distinctive and defiantly challenging animated feature, following squarely in the tradition of Jiri Barta. Aesthetically, the closest comparison for Wilczynski’s ultra-minimalist, hand-drawn animation might be Don Hertzfeldt crossed with David Lynch. To put it another way, he takes the grossest, most disturbing and psychologically expressive elements of Plympton and Gilliam—and scrapes away everything else.

On the surface level,
Kill comes across as an apolitical film. Yet, just knowing this Hellscape is set during the Communist era is a devastating indictment. The damage done to the community and the individual psyche is profoundly and inescapably evident in every frame.

Consequently, the film really cannot be processed through a simple thumbs-up-thumbs-down rubric. It is a strange, beguiling and yet sometimes standoffish work. Some sequences will resonate like a lightning strike, but other bits will inevitably leave viewers cold. Viewers just have to sift through it all to find what works and holds meaning for them, which is bound to differ from person to person.

This is a deeply unsettling film, but somehow Tadeusz Nalepa’s songs (with lyrics by Bogdan Loebl) have a soothing, warm bluesiness that acts as a balm for all the grotesqueness we witness. Plus, its once-in-a-lifetime voice cast includes the late, great filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, the late, great jazz musician Tomasz Stanko, and legendary thesp, Krystyna Janda. Every aspect of this film reflects tremendous artistry, so animation fans are urged to crank up their sense of adventure and give it a try. Very highly recommended for discerning viewers,
Kill It and Leave This Town opens virtually today (11/25), along with a selection of Wilczynski’s previous shorts.