The feting of David Lynch as a guest of honor at the eighth annual Polish Film Festival Los Angeles would seem to be an incongruity worthy of one of the director’s own films. But the fact is that Polish filmmaking figures rather importantly (if inscrutably) in Lynch’s much-discussed new film, Inland Empire, which has been selected for the festival’s Opening Night Gala.
A close runner-up to Inland Empire as the most Lynchian film on display is Konrad Niewolski’s Palimpsest, a meticulously gloomy mind-bender about a frayed cop (Andrzej Chara) investigating the murder of a colleague. Niewolski, whose previous film, Symmetry, was a precisely orchestrated survey of a tetchy prison ecosystem, establishes a predictable police-procedural rhythm and then goes about subverting it with a series of striking (if eventually monotonous) shocks. Although the script’s narrative gamesmanship probably won’t fool twist-savvy audiences (the title is itself a loudly dropped hint), the impeccably composed images and textured sound design (a bit with a droning radio is brilliantly distracting) suggest a talented stylist hitting his stride.
Near the other end of the aesthetic continuum lies Slawomir Fabicki’s Retrieval, a Cannes prizewinner selected as Poland’s official Oscar entry for 2006. This hardscrabble account of Wojtek, a 19-year-old thug (Antoni Pawlicki) butting up against his disapproving immigrant girlfriend, his scarily avuncular underworld employer and his own encroaching sense of morality takes its visual and thematic cues from the films of the Dardenne brothers: It’s all bobbing long takes and omnipresent urban drone matched to redemption-story tropes. Certainly, the perpetual-motion-machine protagonist has something of Jeremie Reinier’s L’Enfant lout about him. Retrieval isn’t up to that film’s level, of course — it’s more conventionally structured, and its headlong realism feels carefully wrought rather than miraculously captured. It’s still a fine debut, however, accruing real dramatic force en route to a perfect and poetic final shot. (Laemmle’s Sunset 5; April 27–May 3)