Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

They say even a scratch can be fatal. Your mum would tell you different, of course - after all, how can a small mark on the surface have a lasting affect? Answer: it all depends on the context in which it is received and on how much attention you give to it. If you keep pulling at the edges, the risk of infection are greatly increased.

Joanna (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak) and Jan (Krzysztof Stroinski) don't look like the type of unit a scratch could hurt. They are a happy and loving couple who have grown comfortably middle-aged together. We meet them as they celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with friends. Among the presents, however, lies the past - in the shape of a videotape no one admits to giving them. When pop it in the player, they find it contains a documentary alleging Jan was part of the secret police, wooing Joanna as a way of getting close to her family. He tells her it's ridiculous, but this is is a scratch that itches and, as Joanna becomes increasingly obssessed with discovering 'the truth', their marriage and her sanity begin to crumble.

Copy picture

At heart, this is a domestic drama more than a political film. Although Poland's troubled past provides a backdrop, writer/director Michal Rosa is more concerned wtih the nature of his central protagonist's fears and with the idea of the human beings behind the politics. It is not just the possibility that Jan has been manipulated by the State and has, in turn, manipulated Joanna, but also the manipulation of both of them by the 'friend' who sent the tape that is put under the spotlight.

The naturalistic look of the film - much of which has a 'cool' colour palette and is set against a season of snow - lend itself to the somber nature of the film, as does the mournful and evocative piano scoring by Stanislaw Radwan.

Since much of the marital battle is a 'war of silence', the film hinges on Jankowska-Cieslak's performance and she rises masterfully to the challenge. Rosa's camera loves her careworn face, but it is her portrayal of inner conflict that shines out. She perfectly emodies an odd mixture of shock and stubborness, obssession and fragility - at once sympathetic and yet frustratingly mule-like in her refusal to give up her hunt. It may only look like a scratch initially, but she is a wounded animal and, therefore, extremely dangerous both to herself an others.

Although rather bleak in its notions of relationships and perhaps not everyone's idea of a 'fun night out' this is a well-made film with cracking central performances that is a lot more complex than it first appears if you care to scratch the surface.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2009
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A revelation threatens to tear apart a 40-year-old marriage.
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EIFF 2009

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