Review by Tim Plant
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Friday, 10/21/2011, 11:30 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at Lisner Auditorium
Polish with English subtitles
WHERE DO YOU go when your life isn’t big enough for your angst? Online.
In the Polish film Suicide Room, Dominik (Jakub Gierszal) is monetarily spoiled and emotionally bankrupt. His absent father and domineering mother have everything planned out for him, and a driver to help him get there. But when a drunken dare leads to a steamy kiss with a male classmate and an embarrassing wrestling incident ends in public humiliation, Dominik finds solace in the anonymity of online life. There he is drawn into the suicide room, where he falls for a beautiful girl with a self-destructive streak.
Writer and director Jan Komasa creates two powerful worlds in his film. The life that Dominik’s parents have constructed is so limited and claustrophobic that you can feel the walls collapsing in on him just when he should be breaking free as an independent young man. Then when his one outlet is lost – his friends – Gierszal delivers a performance that captures the frustration of a teen desperate for some release. Gierszal avoids the pitfall of making Dominik just a stereotypical moody teenager, seemingly ungrateful for his privileged life. In fact, if there are any one-dimensional characters in the film, it would be the adults who are depicted as too rigid and set in their ways. Fortunately, as the parents, Agata Kulesza and Krzysztof Pieczynski perform above their potentially limiting characters.
The virtual realm of the suicide room could easily have become a poorly animated universe filled with avatars, but Komasa capitalizes on the world’s beauty and wonderment. Several scenes feel more artsy than necessary, but they eventually aid in capturing its alluring nature. Even if one lacks an understanding of how these online worlds operate, the story is compelling enough to allow enjoyment.
It may seem impossible to separate the film from the numerous suicides that have dominated headlines over the past year. Yet Suicide Room is less about the bullying crisis and more about how one family slowly unravels. It’s unclear whether Dominik is more traumatized by questions brought on by experiments with teen sexuality or the fear that he will never break free from a predetermined life. Either way, Komasa’s film is a stunning examination of life and finding the will to live it.