Eye For Film >> Movies >> 53 Wars (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Actress-turned-writer-director Ewa Bukowska's 53 Wars, which premiered in the East Of The West section at Karlovy Vary Film Festival, is a tense character study that drags us into the spiralling anxiety of its central character, photojournalist Anka (Magdalena Poplawska).
She is married to journalist Witek (Michal Zurawski) and though both seem initially ambitious, she is the one who ends up staying at home with first one child and then two, while he goes off to write in foreign wars. Bukowska - adapting the screenplay from the novel by Grazyna Jagielska - immerses us in Anka's world, an increasingly skittish and psychologically skewed environment where every emotion becomes magnified.
Fractured moments in Anka's life start to elide, in ways that recall the thrillers of directors such as Roman Polanski and Steven Soderbergh. Only her young son seems to notice the cracks - "Why are you crying," he asks, "Why are you sad" and, observing of his father in a moment of sharp acuity that could apply to everything and everyone in Witek's world outside of his work, "He doesn't see me".
Witek passes in and out of Anka's life as though almost in a dream, she lights up like a high-watt bulb whenever he is in her orbit, and jangles like an alarm every time he leaves. Later, she waits by the phone for the call telling her the worst, as her life around her starts to crumble. Bukowska notes Witek's selfishness not only in his apparent disinterest in his wife's stress but also in the way he seems to almost want to fuel it in order to further his own self-aggrandisement over his achievements on the frontline.
Poplawska is compelling at the film's heart, steering away from melodrama to create a much more disturbing portrait of mixed emotion - a war in her own head, where she is not just torn with anxiety about Witek but also raging with jealousy at the way he is able to drift in and out of their lives in between his own battlefield adrenaline fixes. Bukowska makes sure we become as fixated on Anka as she is on Witek, as cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk's camera creeps ever closer to her, his stifling approach matched by dislocating sound design and Natalia Fiedorczuk-Cieslak's score. If things falter slightly as the film nears its conclusion, as a sudden shift in the action away from the claustrophobia of the family's home strips away much of the cleverly built intensity and lets us off the emotional hook, this remains a strong debut that marks Bukowska out as one to watch behind the camera as well as in front of it.Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2018