Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kolysanka – review

Director: Juliusz Machulski

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

Kolysanka means Lullaby in Polish and what we have is an unusual entry into the vampire genre by a film that is a gentle but black comedy that satirises modern Poland and societal concerns such of off-shoring of work.

It also features a rather unusual vampire family, though we get to see little in the way of vampiric activity, most of it inferred and off-screen.

the family arrive
It begins at a remote house on the edge of an isolated Masurian village. We hear voices discussing the resident, ensuring that he lives alone. The owner works in arts and crafts and we see shadows move along the wall and a walking stick knock at the door. The owner opens the door but no-one is there. When he looks again an odd looking family are stood before him. He asks if they are there about the land.

Michal with the postman
A postman arrives with a registered letter for the Makarewicz family who have now taken over the arts and crafts store. The first thing we should note is that it is daylight, the Makarewicz’ have no trouble with sunlight (though it does seem, later on, that they prefer to sleep through the day). The letter is from a welfare worker who we then see visiting the family. When they are asked how many children they have, the mother, named Bozena (Malgorzata Buczkowska), explains that they have four children – the youngest, Kuba, being a baby – and she is expecting a fifth (so these vampires are born).

 Bozena and Michal
Noises are heard from Dziadek (Janusz Chabior), Bozena’s father-in-law. When the welfare worker asks his age we are told that he is 550, this is quickly revised of course. The next visitors they receive are from a priest and his neophyte – looking for donations. The priest blesses the house and the vampires all make the sign of the cross, and so religious paraphernalia and ritual have no effect. When the priest asks about the previous owner he is told that he left (later they suggest he went on a round the world trip). However we then hear, via the police, that the postman, the welfare worker and the priest and neophyte have all gone missing (and more will go missing as the film progresses).

blood potion
The missing are not dead but kept prisoner in the cellar. The vampires feed from the feet of the victims for so long but the aim is to eventually let their victims go. This is achieved by the head of the clan Michal (Robert Wieckiewicz) mixing his blood into a spirit and forcing their captive to drink it. The potion makes the person who drinks it fall asleep and, when they awaken, they have no memory of their captivity (a conveniently placed empty bottle makes it look like the postman, for instance, has been on a boozy bender).

Dziadek's last two teeth
The problem is that Kuba takes a liking to the priest’s blood and will only settle after drinking from him. Indeed blood from the other captives makes him ill. Meanwhile Dziadek loses his two remaining teeth and, after apparently contemplating suicide, decides he wants false teeth making. Bozena wants to move to the city, Michal is happy in the country, and eldest child Wojtek (Filip Ochinski) begins to doubt that Michal is his father after the priest calls him the son of the devil.

vampire infant
The film was fun and rather non-horror. The vampires do have a vampiric guise. We see it flit over Kuba’s face at one point and when the family play music together they all morph into their vampiric selves, a transformation of clothing as well as physical. The vampire children, we note, have very pointed ears and the shot of them together has overtones of the Addams Family. They can make themselves vanish and there is a suggestion (through sound effects) that they can transform into owls but we see nothing that confirms this.

the vampire family
As I said, this is a black comedy and satire and some of the satire will have been lost on me, being aimed at Poland. Things like their arts and crafts contract being cancelled as it is cheaper to buy the goods from China is a trans-national concern, I guess, but the social commentary about the Polish welfare system went mostly over my head. I also wish we got to know more of the characters. There is some depth built in but they are a fascinating bunch and would have benefited from more detail.

All the above said, it didn’t make the film unenjoyable, indeed it was a fun, well shot film that is worthy of several viewings. I do wish we had got to know more lore but, be that as it may, the film gets a respectable 7 out of 10.

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