The Dress


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Dress
"Dzieduszycka’s lack of screen experience does not prevent her from delivering a compelling performance in a film which manages to delve deeply into its characters despite its brevity."

Studies suggest that somewhere around 90% of women in Western countries are unhappy with their bodies. This isn’t really surprising in societies which place a heavy emphasis on female desirability, and where being seen as desirable can have a huge impact on opportunities in life. For most such women, however, those issues are relatively minor. For Julka (Anna Dzieduszycka), appearance is a much bigger deal, because she’s a little person, and as such she faces significant social barriers.

Without much hope of a better life, Julka has drifted into a job as a cleaner in a small, run-down motel. She gets along well with co-worker Renata (Dorota Pomykala) but doesn’t have much opportunity to meet people, and she has the wariness about her which everyone who has to deal with stigma acquires sooner or later. Bogdan (Szymon Piotr Warszawski) breaks through that. He’s a truck driver whose route means that he stops by the motel on a regular basis, and they get talking in the car park. When he asks her if she’ll go to a bar with him on his next visit, she’s quietly thrilled. She goes out of her way to acquire a nice dress (much more complicated when there are no off-the-shelf options available) so that she can feel confident and sexy and hopefully be seen the same way.

Julka is young and naïve and it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that her first sexual experience is not a pleasant one. There’s not much in Bogdan’s behaviour which female viewers won’t have seen before, but it’s harder to bear for someone who already feels like an outsider. Her quiet dignity in the face of such treatment reveals her inner strength, even as viewers are likely to feel outraged. It does not obscure the hurt. Dzieduszycka’s lack of screen experience (she has only had one, very brief previous role) does not prevent her from delivering a compelling performance in a film which manages to delve deeply into its characters despite its brevity.

How often does a good dress make a woman feel special? how rare is it for the men they’re interested in to care? Julka – and Renata – place a lot of weight on something whose meaning and value are inconsistent. Director Tadeusz Lysiak captures it on camera in a way which suggests that it’s possessed of a magical quality, sparkling under the lights in the bar, allowing Julka to enter a qualitatively different space where new things seem possible. At the same time, it is only a covering, doing nothing to change the real nature of what it contains; but, the film seems to suggest, isn’t that just as true of bodies? Julka’s soul is the same as anyone else’s, just clad a little differently from most. Why does a man who barely seems to notice a dress set so much store by that?

In the film’s final, lingering scene, Julka observes a guest in the motel: a tall, slender woman, turning over on a bed. Despite her nakedness, the impression given is that the woman is clad in a way which will get her further in life than any carefully chosen piece of fabric. Julka’s stare is not so much covetous as curious, puzzled by the strangeness of a world in which fortunes are so randomly determined. As others pass through the motel and disappear from her world, Julka will remain, behind the scenes, devoid of illusions.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2022
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A woman with limited hopes toils in a rundown motel in rural Poland, as a maid, and is befriended by a visiting truck driver.

Director: Tadeusz Lysiak

Writer: Tadeusz Lysiak

Starring: Anna Dzieduszycka, Dorota Pomykala, Szymon Piotr Warszawski, Andrzej Glazer

Year: 2020

Runtime: 30 minutes

Country: Poland


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