Wojciech Staron: Brothers

This is a sneak preview review of a film that has its premiere beginning af August at the Locarno Film Festival written by an admirer of Polish cinematographer and director Wojciech Staron, an admirer who happily once more (after the films Siberian Lesson and Argentinian Lesson) is totally seduced. Staron proves to me again to be one of few European documentary poets, who believes in the power of the image and sequences without verbal explanation, he dares long scenes, he is a master in composition, he is a Filmmaker who paints with his camera, a visual artist…

… as one of the brothers, Alfons Kulakowski, who is a skilled painter. Alfons is the little brother, Mieczyslaw is some years older. They are both in their 90’es. Alfons is fit, Mieczyslaw is

frail and gets weaker as the film progresses. It’s about the two together, for a whole life, one gets the impression, helping each other in the twilight of their lives. That said, it’s more Alfons who helps his older brother to get around, well also to get dressed in a beautiful scene that follows one, where Mieczyslaw takes his time to put on a sock with the help of equipment from the kitchen. There are many such brilliant moments that serves one purpose: to show the love the brothers have to each other, and the love the director feels for his protagonists.

But there is also a story unfolded in a more classical sense so let me quote the introductory screen text: ”80 years after being exiled in Siberia the brothers Kulakowski decided to return to their homeland Poland to start a new life there.”

That’s about all you get to know up front, from which point you slowly, with the old men, are moved into their minds and piece by piece get hints on how their past lives have passed. In Siberia, but also in Almaty Kazakhstan, which is mentioned later on. That is in general done through cuts that goes from today to the past of 8 and 16 mm archive films shot by Mieczyslaw in which you – in magic sequences – see beautiful women, festive situations, helicopter bringing food to remore areas and you understand that they must have (had) families. And you see archive with Alfons, who paints landscapes, easy to recognise because of his beard that was black at that time.

The film takes the viewer to Brussels where a big exhibition of Alfons work is organised. The long-haired, white-bearded brothers are there, it is very official, they get pretty tired and when home – Oh Noooo – their house had caught a fire and is burnt totally down with all the paintings that we have seen in room after after room. Once again a new life has to begin for the old men…

And it does with Alfons embracing a tree, to find courage to go on. Staron lets them go on in ending scenes full of compassion, making it clear where the point of view of the director is and how he interprets the destinies of brothers in Life. Wow for a film!  

Poland, 2015, 68 mins.


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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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