Exit Marrakech.

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When I was nineteen, I believed that gender was nothing more than a social construct. The physical, psychological, and social differences between men and women didn’t matter to me, despite the fact that these differences are obvious and undeniable. These ideas led me to adopt many feminist beliefs…and they also led me to several club parties where I stood in front of the women’s toilet asking the other girls in line to break the rules and use the men’s one. Ah, youth. Regardless of the implications of my actions and their actual effect on other people’s lives, I still believe in equality…an equality that has nothing to do with women no longer doing dishes and men refusing to help with heavy bags. Equality runs deeper than the actions behind them. I don’t care so much about deeds – I care about the state of mind of the people carrying them out, however vague that might sound.

Now, to a movie which made me very angry (for no apparent reason, on first glance). It’s a fairy tale-like father and son story about a journey, both literal and figurative. Caroline Link’s German ‘Exit Marrakech’ blinks and shines like fake-gold souvenirs you get at tourist stands. From a narrative standpoint, it’s light and spectator-friendly. It offers short-lasting comfort and easily accessible joy. It’s got loveable characters, including a slightly juvenile, incredibly talented father and his son, who, in a search for his own path, takes a crazy journey with a Moroccan prostitute. His father, previously absent in the teenager’s life, travels through beautiful landscapes and wide open spaces in order to find his son. This shared adventure changes both of them. They manage to find a path to reconciliation, and even the over-protective and slightly jealous mother cannot destroy it.

Everything is so easy, so heartwarming and so one-dimensional. Of course, Ben (Samuel Schneider) yells at his father Heinrich (Ulrich Tukur), smokes pot in front of him, and fools around with a prostitute. His father’s absent- minded observation of his child’s struggles is even somehow understandable and relatable. But then the pace speeds up, one thing leads to another, and in the last scene we see a perfect family picture taken on the Moroccan beach. Ben’s mother is conspicuously absent, of course, because she, as the unifying element of their infamous past, needs to get into a car and drive away. There is no room for her in this parade of forgiveness. She’s simply too real.

The reason why this movie got on my nerves so much isn’t the banality of the story. What I could accept in ‘My bike’ (which I wrote about last week), starts to annoy me in ‘Exit Marrakech’. It’s yet another road film about the mental journey towards maturity and a male-oriented generation gap. I’m pissed off because I don’t understand. I don’t get why Link, a female director, couldn’t make a movie about a mother and her daughter, thus offering a female perspective on this familiar story trope. Why couldn’t the girl run off with a warm-hearted male escort? Why couldn’t her mother drive through bleak, deserted places to find her child? Why, in cinema, do mother-daughter dilemnas always tend towards the negative, while men get to sunbathe and listen to the calming sound of the moving sea, even in movies made by women?

In the moments like this, I feel nineteen again. And for that I’m grateful, because it’s good to feel this ideological anger sometimes. Those impulses don’t have much of an impact, though, since ‘Exit Marrakech’ still tempts us with beautiful pictures that feed our desire for striking visuals. It also tricks us with one of life’s simple truths: it’s better to follow the pattern than to contradict it, even when it comes to a very universal story about the battle between parents and their children.

You’ll like this movie if:

  1. You’re primarily looking for pretty visuals without a great deal of thought-provoking substance.
  2. You don’t mind trivial, even cliched cinematic choices.
  3. You have never, at any stage of your life, considered yourself a feminist.

Poster-ENGLISHTitle: Exit Marrakech

Year: 2013

Directed by: Caroline Link

Written by: Caroline Link

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama


Trailer:

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My father’s bike.

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Picture this: a grainy photo of a man and a child trudging up to the top of a ski slope. The man to keep his balance while grasping the hand of the little boy next to him. The boy struggles to keep pace, all the while goofing off, grinning cheekily at the camera. Us, the viewers, can make out a small smile on the older man’s face, even though the rest of it is blurry. It is obvious that the boy is nothing but trouble. The older man is my grandpa, the boy is my father, and this black-and-white glimpse into the past was taken in the early 1960s.

My dad has always said that even though my grandpa frequently took him on holiday, they never really got along. There was no real communication; my grandpa had his own world locked behind a door of masculine stoicism and my dad, despite looking, never found the key to open it.

Now, picture this: you want to create a film about the inner workings of the masculine mind. A film so sentimental you’ll use classical and jazz music; clichéd, yes, but eternal. A film so sentimental that you search for only the best actors to portray believable, occasionally volatile characters. Perhaps a road movie, universal in its familiar symbolism…so familiar that it could use a children’s bicycle.

Mój rower, or My Father’s Bike (2012) is a Piotr Trzaskalski film about men, that both men and women will appreciate. This classic road film is an allegorical story about growing up, but in a style lacking gratuitous action. The audience finds itself somewhere in rural Poland, following three main characters who are driving in the countryside. They’re not enjoying themselves; there’s an invisible, impermeable wall between the three generations of men in the car: a grandfather Włodek (played by Michał Urbaniak), Włodek’s son (Artur Żmijewski) and Włodek’s grandson (Krzysztof Chodorowski).

They are driven along by the car’s spinning wheels and by a mission–the three of them are looking for the woman who betrayed them all: Włodek’s wife, who has left him. Włodek is an undeniable drunk whose real talent lays in playing the clarinet. Throughout the film, the trio faces a whole host of obstacles: fights, reconciliations, and finally, a sort of peace. Sort of.

Men in this film embody the stereotypes of what it is to be essentially male, not only in Poland, but in the world over. They drink vodka, go fishing, swim in lakes, have confrontations…all in an attempt to cover up the mutual grievances that haunt them. Like real men, we can see their frustrations, anger, and ruthlessness. In the end, as in most road movies, we see hard-won harmony, acceptance, and communication. Michał Urbaniak received the prize for Best Actor at the Tallin Film Festival in Estonia. Commenting on the jury’s choice he said: “I promised to be honest.” And he was. Honest as hell.

My grandpa was honest, too. He passed away nearly four years ago, indirectly ensuring the door that separated him with my father would never be unlocked. However, that grainy photo still lingers. Despite the blurry visages, and the intimate history of the men in my family, the smiles still stand prominent, unfading. So maybe that’s all it takes? Maybe family support is built on the laughs we share while hiking up the hill?

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

1. you don’t care much about the Bechdel test   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test).

2. you liked Shrek and/or Up (both about the characters transformations and their ‘roads’ towards emotional maturity).

3. you find drunken conversations in movies hilarious…no matter how hard you try not to.

my bikeTitle: My father’s bike (Mój rower)

Year: 2012

Directed by: Piotr Trzaskalski

Written by:  Piotr Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka

Country: Poland

Genre: Drama / Comedy


Trailer:

Black cat, White cat.

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Oh my God, you haven’t seen it? – don’t you just hate hearing that? It happens to me from time to time, especially when someone mentions a Hollywood blockbuster everybody’s making a big fuss about. I remember that in 1998 Armageddon came on screen and I promised myself that I would watch it when people stop jabbering about the ‘Don’t wanna miss a thing’ song. To be honest, I don’t think I have seen the entire movie to this day. But recently I have mentioned Emir Kusturica’s Black cat, white cat (released in the same year as Armageddon!) to my boyfriend and, to my suprise, he had no idea what I was talking about. And since he’s very important to me and since he’s also a film person, I felt that I want this note to be partially my gift to him. I apologise in advance for those who have seen the movie, since my choice for this week’s note might seem pretty obvious. And for those people who haven’t seen it – see the opening question.

When I first saw Black cat, white cat, I decided very deeply that Emir Kusturica’s going to be my husband one day and we’ll have cute half- Serbian, half- Polish babies. Not being able to fulfill this dream means that I at least promised to be the most faithful fan of his cinematography; the kind of admirer that wants the music from his movies to be played on my funeral. Every film of his is an invitation to a crazy world of adventure, where sacrum is mixed with profanum and various genres blend, forming a galaxy of visual and emotional experiences.

Welcome to Emir Kusturica’s world!. If you want to reproduce the conditions at home, you’ll need:

– bodyguards with green hair,

– ‘Maradona’ yelp being used as a cheer,

– sinking washing machines,

– pigs that a ridden on,

– porn bits being animals copulating,

– cameras hidden in geraniums,

– the mafia boss who looks like a dummy,

– a beat-up jeep used as a wheelchair,

– money being used as a fan,

– geese that are more numerous than people.

Let’s not forget the dialogues with lines like: ‘If you can’t solve the problem with money, solve it with a lot of money’ or ‘What abour your soul? Our parents are watching from above. They can’t see anything, it’s clouded’. Black cat white cat is a tale about love and hate, brotherhood and lack of equality, about loveable characters living in absurd circumstances. There’s Zare (Florijan Ajdini) who’s in love with Ida (Branka Katić). He cannot marry her because his father Matko (Bajram Severdžan), being a lousy swindler who got cheated on by a big local scum Dadan (Srdjan Todorović), to pay off the debt promised his son to Dadan’s sister. Zare and his grandad (Zabit Memedov) search for a way out of this miserable situation. The older comes out with a wonderful idea – he’ll die just before the wedding. His passing starts a parade of unexpected events that result in Dadan’s unfortunate outhouse accident. The plot is fast- paced, surprising and filled with Balkan music that enhances the feeling of absurdity. That life needs to be celebrated and death is just a temporary inconvenience. This fresh approach to a comedy seen as taking the plot with a pinch of salt makes Black cat, white cat full of vibrancy and positive energy. Some say that the world presented in the film is the result of Kusturica’s vivid imagination. I don’t see why this wouldn’t work to the film’s advantage. This movie is not a character study that offers insight to the heart of the human nature. It’s a warm, colourful, musical break we can give our mind from broken washing machines, dying plants and other dumb parts of our lives that fill up our days to the overbrim.

I hope that next time I mention Black cat, White cat to someone, the reaction won’t include eyes- rolling and sarcastic comments about my cinematographic taste. I really hope someone will say: ‘you know, this comedy was so much better that all of Sandra Bullock movies’. Or, I mean, better that at least one of them.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You’re looking for something funny, warm and light. Like you’re having a bad day and want to forget about what has happened at work or with your partner.
  2. You feel music as an important part of a film production and should be put on a pedestal.
  3. You like Monty Python’s sketches. Some of the scenes in Black cat, white cat remind me of a vibe in And now for something completely different.

black cat white cat

Title: Black cat, white cat (Crna mačka, beli mačor)

Year: 1998

Directed by: Emir Kusturica

Written by:  Emir Kusturica, Gordan Mihić

Country:  France, Germany, FR Yugoslavia

Genre: Comedy

Trailer:

Love steaks.

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My grandmother was always very picky and turned down every suitor. They were either too short, their jackets didn’t fit properly, their smiles were crooked, or they just didn’t have enough charisma. She ended up marrying an average-looking mama’s boy who wasn’t capable of meeting responsibilities…but hey, at least he had a sailboat! And this was, supposedly, a really big deal for my grandma; she agreed to marry the guy, gave birth to two girls, and led the charmed life of a suburban Polish housewife. Then, one day, she just up and left the house, taking my aunt and mom with her, adn never came back. This was in the 1950s in what was still a very catholic and coservative country, so you can safely conclude that my grandma is pretty badass.

Now, 50 years later, she never talks about her ex-husband. She wiped his face from her memory together with their common belongings and family photographs. Grandma officially kept his surname, but always uses her maiden name to introduce herself.

I often wonder what went wrong between those two. Was it just the facade of the sailboat and the fancy parties my grandmother fell for? Or did they have too much? Maybe the whole relationship was too intense and draining…my mom once told me that she remembers her parents throwing plates and cutlery at each other. But, come on, my mom was two when my grandmother took her hand and left the family house, so her memories can’t really be trusted. Maybe there was just so much tension between my grandparents that even the sailboat couldn’t fix their marriage.

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with romantic film stories. I appreciate them for their comforting predictability, but they are usually just too cheesy and obvious. But, hey, I’ve finally found a love story that is fresh and full of energy. Go and see Love Steaks (2013) by Jakob Lass, a very funny and light story about how the opposites attract, and how love yanks us out of our comfort zones.

The story is, on the surface, pretty stereotypical. We’ve got a familiar location (a luxurious hotel) for two characters who are as different from one another as you can imagine. The guy, Clemens (Franz Rogowski) is a shy, nature-oriented, peace-searching masseur who likes to play with his clients’ body energies, abstains from alcohol, and performs primitive African rituals. Lara (Lana Cooper) is a hotel cook with alcoholic tendencies and a super-cheerful attitude towards life. Together, Lana and Clemens perform ritualistic immolations of an abandoned boat (not a sailboat, but close enough), and generally push each other’s buttons.

What makes the story so great is its energy, rawness and immediacy (like the titular ‘steaks’). Lass hired two professional actors but put them in a hotel environment with real staff. He also gave the actors just a sequence of scenes to follow, but generally depended on the improvisation and creativity of the crew. The result is original, believable and funny. I’m telling you: throw out all the Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston swags and order Love Steaks instead.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. romantic comedies usually make you throw up in your mouth…but you still watch them from time to time.
  2. you’re strangely drawn to New Age types and to people who live over the edge…and you want to watch these two types have a head-on collision
  3. you enjoy bittersweet humour with just enough sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth, but also with a pinch of salt to prevent nausea.

love steaksTitle: Love Steaks

Year: 2013

Country: Germany

Directed by: Jakob Lass

Written by: Jakob Lass, Ines Schiller, Timon Schaeppi, Nico Woche

Genre: Mumblecore Romcom

 

Trailer:

PS Sorry I was late this week. My brother came to Paris for a visit. So I just focused on entertaining him for a bit. :)

Concrete Night.

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As a teacher, I often have to deal with teenagers. Whenever I do, I always turn into this annoying advice-producing machine that shoots words of wisdom and tries to save innocent souls. Based on my experience, teenagers can be split into two groups: the ones that pretend not to hear any advice given by adults, and the ones who do listen but always contradict. Now, after watching the Finnish movie Concrete Night (2013) by Pirjo Honkasalo, I know there is also a third group: the teens who do listen and even follow the advice they’re given with a caveat: the advice they take was given by the wrong people.

Imagine a night that changes you forever. The kind of dank and sweaty darkness which hunts for your innocence. The night that turns from tranquil and predictable into a sleep-stealing moster. This is indeed the titular Concrete Night. I wish the English translation used the more definitive word ‘ultimate’ in the title, for it is so final and fatal, that the word ‘concrete’ just doesn’t do it justice. Indeed, if life and death ever made an agreement about the rules of their co-existence, this night would be the deal-breaker.

Meet Simo (Johannes Brotherus), the protagonist. He is just a teenager, but with a not-so-adolescent softness and tenderness (come on, we all know how annoying these little bastards can be). His family situation is far from perfect, but Simo has a warm heart and a selfless spirit. He’s joyful and full of hope, even living in a dump with his unreliable and childish single mother and his trouble-making, shady-looking brother.

But, then, Simo is JUST a teenager. He still struggles with finding his identity and is confused by right-or-wrong dilemmas. Simo feels restless, so he turns to his older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) for advice. Ilkka is not only about to start his prison sentence, but also has a head full of fun and useful life facts. Simo follows Ilkka during the night and gets some rather obscure and weird advice from him. The older brother says, for example, that, all women like to be hit, and that one day scorpions will rule the world and feast on human remains. Simo might laugh hearing all this pseudo-wisdom, but by the end of the night his innocence will be long gone and the darkness will enter his soft heart.

Simo walks around the city, smoking and drinking, with rain falling on his youthful face. He sees a familiar-looking photographer and follows him into the apartment. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Simo poses in front of the camera. He’s supposed to show youth in its purest essence: a vulnerable, sensitive innocence. But Simo is no longer young, and the protographer’s attempts to place a big garland on the boy’s head trigger a violence nobody could ever anticipate.

What makes the film worth seeing isn’t just the fascinating and rather surreal plot with dark city corners and surreal creatures. It’s also the photography. In Concrete Night, light is not just a tool – it becomes one of the main characters. It can be creepy and full of murky shadows, or violent with a sharp and penetrating brightness. It moves the film into a whole new level of visual experience – where you, as a viewer, feel like a part of this disturbing surrealistic plot, and you weep inside that goodness doesn’t conquer the evil and that Simo’s path towards emotional maturity cannot be turned back.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you believe cities are alive – they breathe, bite or kiss just like other living creatures.
  2. b) you enjoy books by William S. Burroughs or Franz Kafka. They create similar images as the ones seen in the movie.
  3. c) you’re a visual moviegoer. There is no way you won’t appreciate the stark beauty of light and shadow in the cinematography.

Concrete-Poster-500x288Title: Concrete Night (Betoniyö)

Year: 2013

Directed by: Pirjo Honkansalo

Written by: Pirjo Honkansalo

Country: Finland

Genre: Drama

Trailer:

Silent wedding.

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I recently asked a few of my 4-year-old students what the perfect place would mean to them. Little girls kept talking about puffy princess dresses, chocolate and how they would like to ride ponies all the time (isn’t that the most stereotypical response ever?). Boys’ answers were more varied–full of jungle animals, rubber boats, action figures and high-speed trains. One boy said he would like to see everything in purple; one girl that she would like to hear music at every single Parisian crosswalk.

Anyways, it was fascinating to listen to my students talking about their dream worlds. I don’t remember my ideas from when I was little, but I’m sure it would have something to do with those cheesy Japanese cartoons that were so popular in Poland in the 1990s.

Such dreams, ladies and gentlemen, have inspired a Story (with a capital S)–a ‘once-upon-a-time’ tale about an idyllic land of milk and honey. Silent Wedding (2008) by Horatiu Malaele seems like a serenade to bygone times that have passed forever. It’s a warm, funny, bittersweet story filled with hedonism and free-living characters. People have sex, drink, fight, reconcile, dance, run around the fields, scream and sleep against picturesque backdrops. Not that far from them, there is HISTORY happening, with the Communist party and comrade Joseph Stalin on top. But people can still enjoy good vodka or visit the circus.

There are, however, certain rules. One of them is, ‘If you sleep with her, you have to marry her,’ respected by Tata Grigore (Victor Rebengiuc), who insists on consecrating the romance between his daughter Mara (Meda Victor) and Iancu (Alexandru Potoceanu). But the wedding plans conincide with Stalin’s death, which brought with it a ban on all celebration. Tata Grigore comes up with a clever solution: everyone can do what they wish, but they need to remain silent. We then see beautifully ludicrous scenes of the band ‘almost’ playing, people ‘almost talking’ and the young couple ‘almost dancing’. This scene is also a culmination of characters’ absurd attempts to ignore the outside world.

But, this outside world cannot be ignored and it eventually tracks them down. The characters, though cheerful and full of life, turn out to be tragic victims of the system, or, maybe, more generally, of the evil side of human nature. This story, despite its initial sweetness, leaves behind a bitter taste. It is, indeed, a ‘hymn’ to the utopian past–the past my grandparents talked about, full of neighbourly dancing parties. Or the past of my parents, visiting every corner of the city without fear of being assaulted. Silent Wedding is a visually beautiful tribute to nature and the simple pleasures of yesteryear.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you consider yourself a bit of a hedonist (even if you wouldn’t admit it).
  2. b) you sometimes wish you were a little kid again, or that you’d been born earlier in time. (Or both.)
  3. c) you don’t care about historical accuracy. Stalin died in March and the events in the movie are clearly happening during the summer. Thus, we can safely conclude that the comrade’s death is only a vague excuse to give story a tragic twist.

SilentWeddingPoster1Title: Silent Wedding (Nunta mută)

Year: 2008

Directed by: Horatiu Malaele

Written by: Adrian Lustig, Horatiu Malaele

Country: Romania

Genre:  Comedy- drama


Trailer:

Floating skyscrapers.

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In 1948, Alfred Kinsey and his co-workers published the first study of sexual behavior in humans. They introduced the Kinsey scale (0-6) that attempts to describe a person’s sexual orientation. ‘0’ on the Kinsey scale means ‘exclusively heterosexual’, while ‘6’ means ‘exclusively homosexual’. According the Kinsey, people’s positions on the scale tend to shift over time. You can take the test here: vistriai.com/kinseyscaletest.

I took it. And I’m a ‘2’, which is a bit surprising since I have always considered myself purely heterosexual. According to the test results, I’m ‘predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual’. I’m not sure if the scale measures my sexual potential or the level of my inhibitions. Anyways, the Kinsey scale shows us a simple truth about the human nature – we are not made of stone, and having said that, we can float. Even sexually.

Floating Skyscrapers (2013), then, seems like a very appropriate title if we want to describe the innate tendency of humans to change over time. Its director, Tomasz Wasilewski, created a universal love story with a tragic twist. It’s so versatile that it begs a comparison to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The dialogue in Floating Skyscrapers starts with Michał (Bartosz Gelner) asking: ‘Is that a joint?’ This is, admittedly, not quite as poetic as Romeo’s ‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand…’ speech, but even so, there’s a universal appeal at work in this movie from its very beginning. Wasilewski’s Romeo and Juliet are Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) and Michał, who aren’t star-crossed lovers from feuding families; they’re two young men. Their fight isn’t with their loved ones; it’s with society as a whole. Because of this choice of characters, Floating Skyscrapers gets referred to as ‘the first LGBT Polish movie’. This label is a bit unfair, since Wasilewski managed to avoid social stereotypes and the story is mostly free of common clichés.

Kuba is an alpha male. He’s got short hair, trains in swimming and is, generally speaking, quite masculine. His relationship with Michał develops slowly through a series of back-and-forth actions and exchanges. They struggle not only to be accepted by others, but also by themselves. In this pair, Wasilewski created very deep, empathetic and believable characters. Their motives seem real and their actions are very human. We see their lack of self- acceptance, superficial tolerance and dearth of self-understanding. However, I feel that the director walks a tightrope between the scandal and the universality of the story. Maybe it’s because of homosexuality is still such a controversial topic in Poland. Maybe it’s because this story is a bit too visually beautiful, creating a sort of a fantasy world that doesn’t exist in reality. To me this movie is an attempt to talk objectively and with no unnecessary emotions about something that to this day divides Polish society. It’s also an attempt to tell viewers that they shouldn’t label love or affection, that these kind of feelings can be found anywhere.

All over the Internet, people have been writing that this movie touches the ‘no-go’ area. That it’s trend-setting, groundbreaking and a lot of other hackneyed things that don’t mean much. I prefer to see Floating Skyscrapers as a beautiful though heartbreaking film that cuts to the deepest truths about love and human nature. We change and we can’t always decide who we fall in love with, but there is always some know-it-all lurking over our shoulders telling us how we should live our lives.

People say Romeo and Juliet is tragic. Watch Floating Skyscrapers and think whether the end of this movie with its stillness and touching passiveness isn’t more of a tragedy than two lovers, deciding to end their lives, but at least being together till the very last second. What’s revolutionary and dramatic, isn’t always the most tragic.

We all float. We even do it while watching a movie – we struggle with the plot, action twists and with the ending. We float in our admiration towards the main characters – we support them, but can’t understand some of their life choices. I think Floating Skyscrapers tells us a simple, a bit trivial, but yet very current truth about the human condition – we are not made of stone. We might be like buldings with concrete constructions, but we all also change depending on the circumstances.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You like tragic love stories.
  2. Your perception of movies gets deeper than just a superficial reception of the action.
  3. You are more of a liberal. Super right- wing people wouldn’t watch anything that has ‘LGBT’ in its proximity anyways.

Floating-Skyscrapers-posterTitle: Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce)

Year: 2013

Directed by: Tomasz Wasilewski

Written by: Tomasz Wasilewski

Country: Poland

Genre: Drama


Trailer: