Eye For Film >> Movies >> My Nikifor (2004) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Nikifor 'Krynicki' (his true last name was never known for certain) was one of Poland's most famous painters and among the greatest contributors worldwide to the naive school. He was also a man who lived on the fringes of society, homeless for most of his life, struggling to communicate due to a speech impediment, interested only in expressing himself through painting. This meticulous biopic from director Krzysztof Krauze explores the last few years of his life and his effect on fellow painter Marian Wlosinski, in whose studio he briefly worked.
My Nikifor opens with a picture postcard shot of Krynica, sleepy little houses nestled amid snowy mountains. It's precisely the kind of image Nikifor used in his work, and throughout this film Krauze draws upon such imagery to relate the experience of living in this town which gave him so much inspiration. Part of that experience lies in the joy which Wlosinski experiences with his young children. At the time when we meet him he is struggling artistically but is a devoted family man. Unfortunately for him, his discovery of Nikifor's genius, which will turn his professional life upside down, goes hand in hand with discovering that Nikifor is suffering from tuberculosis, then highly communicable and deadly. This means that Wlonsinski must choose between the artist and his family, who cannot be safe if he spends time with both.
When his family leave for Krakow, Wlosinski is plunged into a deep depression which marks the first stage on his journey to discovering his own real artistic talent. Famously, Nikifor was never taught to paint, but taught himself through observation and intuition. His natural talent contrasts sharply with Wlosinski's technically excellent but initially soulless work. By living alongside him. Nikifor teaches Wlosinski how to learn from the wold. Though Wlosinski must abandon his own work altogether for a while, when Nikifor most needs his care, it is through this that he comes to discover what art is for.
My Nikifor rises above the average biopic because it seems to have a real purpose to the telling of its tale, a purpose which goes beyond simply documenting the life of a famous person. Nikifor's example and the lessons he provides simply by living have a relevance which goes beyond art. Also important is Nikifor's deep religious faith, which gives him the confidence to persist with his own purose no matter what life throws at him. Nikifor is portrayed by the famous Polish stage actress Krystyna Feldman, whose highly affected yet intense performance gives him dignity without hiding his shabbiness or his general state of decay. It is an obsessive performance which gives us an insight into the mind of a man for whom art was the whole reason for being.
My Nikifor is a film not only for admirers of the artist but for anyone with an interest in creative work, or, indeed, for anyone who admires the beautiful landscapes of rural Poland. It is a human drama which reminds us of the essential humanity of others, no matter how different or distant they may seem.Reviewed on: 16 Sep 2007