The Balcony Movie: Seasons of Conversation | OWR 2022
With One World Romania having kicked off this week, Romania’s premier documentary festival brings a full slate of the past year’s most renowned non-fiction selections to Bucharest cinemas. Among the films presented across sections is Pawel Lozinski’s multi-award-winning The Balcony Movie. Screening as part of the festival’s “Garden of All Flowers” section, the Polish production has accrued accolades from DOK Leipzig, FIPADOC, Trieste Film Festival, It’s All True (Brazil), and ZagrebDox, while screening everywhere from IDFA to CPH:DOX, Ji.hlava to ARTDOCFEST/RIGA, since its 2001 debut.
A master of Poland’s unofficial third wave of documentarians (the first two representing pre and post-Krzysztof Kieślowski, Bohdan Kosiński, and Tomasz Zygadło 1971 “Documentary Filmmakers Make Their Case” manifesto), Lozinski’s films have found innovative and uncharted presentations of their respective thematic areas. From anti-semitism (Birthplace, 1992) and his personal, familial relationships (Father and Son, 2013) to the thoughts and fears of those undergoing terminal illness therapy (Chemo, 2009), Lozinski’s tackling of grand subjects with emotional and respectful intimacy are seminal representations of his home country’s widely respected observational approach to documentary.
With The Balcony Movie, Lozinski tackles the grandest topic of all: the meaning of life. Drawing on his two decades of documentary experience, The Balcony Movie comes as a culmination of his interests through the simplest of setups. In placing the camera atop his personal Warsaw balcony (on what seems to be the manageable second story), rarely moving it from a static medium shot, Lozinski initiates conversation with various passers-by. Lozinski has used his personal space before, in 1999’s exploration of poverty, loneliness and death, Taka Historia. That film, though, dealt specifically with three of his neighbors. With The Balcony Movie, Lozinski greatly expands on the number of subjects, while his queries cover the days, lives, dreams, and thoughts of each without discriminating by age, gender, ideology, class, or even species (young father-to-be pitbull Bolek is in the running for Lozinski’s sought-after “hero”). What culminates is a quad seasonal aggregation of personal intimacies; a cinematic catharsis of hope amongst the mundane, unfair, and inexplicable of life.
Lozniksi’s conversations are far from one-sided, as he frequently offers his own interpretations and impressions on his philosophical queries. Some are hesitant, others determined and open. And as the film unfolds, so do the seasons and the conversations. As spring turns to summer and beyond, many of his interviewees appear several times over, expanding narratives and context, situating personal tribulations within macro realities. Of these, several also stand out in the running for the film’s hero. There is the fresh out of jail, former drug addict who the film follows through gainful employment. There is Agnieszka, the debilitatingly shy woman whose eventual smiles and waves are subtle reminders of how empathy and openness are sometimes all that is needed to make someone’s day. Or, there is the pre-teen boy who perhaps offers the most profound observation of all: that luck is the deciding factor in modern-day success.
There are stirring moments, too, from societal flaws to prolonged grief manifestations. The Balcony Movie, for instance, reminds us of Poland’s heavy nationalistic sentiment from two immigrant-blaming participants of a 60,000-strong such demonstration. In another example, an elderly man grieves the loss of his partner of 40 years – who he felt necessary to describe as his “roommate” in public throughout that time. Still more is the woman, some 13 years a widow, who still pushes herself for the lack of love she claims she offered her husband during his life.
The Balcony Movie was shot over two years before the appearance of the apocalyptic horsemen plague and war. With a throwback feel to a reality that feels increasingly distant by the day (albeit also strangely apropos in its socially distanced construction), the film serves as a joyful reminder that life frequently surpasses imagination and that we are all the heroes of our own stories; oftentimes protagonists in the stories of our neighbors as well. But for my money, if I were to choose one person to dub as the film’s hero, it would unquestionably be elderly neighbor Zosia. In ever-cleaning the Lozinski’s debris, leaves, snow, and other obstructions from below Lozinski’s balcony, without her, the film would not be possible.
The Balcony Movie screens at One World Romania on Wednesday, May 18, 2022