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.
Directed by: Piotr Trzaskalski
Written by: Piotr Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka
Genre: Drama / Comedy