Movie Review

Tower. A Bright Day. (2017) by Jagoda Szelc

Original Name: Wieza. Jasny dzien

Director:  Jagoda Szelc

Runtime: 106 minutes

Language: Polish

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Polish cinema has been on a roll lately regarding emerging young female filmmakers whose voices are clearly recognized in their first outputs. We had Agnieszka Smoczyńsk’s uneven but impressive The Lure, this year we have One Day from Zsófia Szilágyi. Add them to the established Polish female households Ildikó Enyedi (On Body and Soul), Małgorzata Szumowska (Body, Mug) and Agnieszka Holland (Spoor, In Darkness), you can see that Poland has no shortage of talented women voice. Now we can add Jagoda Szelc to the list with her achievement here in Tower. In a short foreword she talked during the film festival in which I attended, she asserted that “whatever your take about the meaning of this film is, you’re always right”. Thus, aside from my confidence that my interpretation of it won’t be wrong, it’s clear that this film won’t make much sense narrative-speaking. It’s not an abstract work by any mean, but by the end of it I can see what she meant. Tower is more interested to tackle on themes than it cares much about plot or characters, so at the end it doesn’t pay off in terms of character arcs, but more about its underlying message (or it could be nothing at all)

Basically, the story begins when an estranged sister Mula (Anna Krotoska) visits her sister Kaja’s family (Małgorzata Szczerbowska) when Kaja’s daughter Nina (Laila Hennessy) will receive her First Communion in next few days. It’s a family reunion, where their brother and mom are there as well, but it’s a tense one. Mula disappeared for years and came back oblivious like she’s in other dimension. Soon we learn that Nina is her biological daughter but Kaja forbids her to stay near her, let alone take care of her. Yet her presence draws strange occurrence to the family, and the community at large. Their Mom starts to recover surprisingly well, the local priest starts to lose his grip, the dog disappears mysteriously… Kaja senses something wrong but can’t put her fingers on why.

There are two main themes that Tower tackle throughout its run. First is faith, or to be more exact, the loss of faith. The setting itself happens during Nina’s First Communion for one thing. In addition, the film constantly suggests that Mula has some sort of black power that cause the abnormal events, most importantly the priest who begins to lose his mind. That would explain the bizarre closure where people walk toward the same destination, occult-like. The loss of faith isn’t strictly in religious sense, but also familial sense as the sisters begin to suspect each other.

Secondly, Tower always has a keen sense of dealing with oppression. Everything here is oppressed, from Nina who is forbidden to do what she likes, to the way this old village functions as the way of holding individual to their assigned roles. For me, I could go broader to say that religion in this film context represents the old, traditional way of the community and its desire to break from the convention. It makes sense, as a result, that the ending is a break from its own storytelling format. That nothing makes sense because it doesn’t need to be.

Technically, for the most part Szelc does succeed on maintaining the atmospheric psychological thriller tone. Technically, there are some scenes that stand out, notably when the film recounts the same event from different perspective with eerily sound design. The actual cinematography remains low-budget and low-key. The acting is serviceable with the actors make the most out of their parts (there isn’t much unfortunately). This sure is an ambiguous debut, the one that doesn’t mind to be different and dare us to be on the same wavelength with it. The result is divisive, not all of them work but it’s still a brave feature from a novice who already has a firm grip on her own style.

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