A challenge to social conformism and the family institution, Krzysztof Skonieczny's film is considered one of the year's most interesting debuts. His cinematic provocation lures viewers in, only to send them home irritated.
Marcin (played by Marcin Kowalczyk) appears out of the blue. One evening, he turns up at the door of an apartment located in a skyscraper. The owners aren't there. Instead, their twenty-year-old daughter answers the door. Ola (played by Jaśmina Polak) is on her way out to a party, Marcin joins her. They have fun and dance with each other and end up going back to her place. In the morning Marcin wakes up in Ola's bed. He meets her parents. This is when he starts to take revenge. For what? Why is this particular couple the victim of his evil plan? We'll never know.
Hiting where it hurts
Much like the French Nobel Prize for Literature laureat André Gide who, in the 1897 prose-poem " The Fruits of the Earth", famously said "Families, I hate you!", in his debut feature, Krzysztof Skonieczny shows the family as a hotbed of conformity and its fruit. Willing to fight for his family, the architect father (played by Janusz Chabior) abandons his ideals and artistic ambitions. He makes a living by "designing homes for half-wits". The family's relations are built on patterns, appearances and lies. The young man who appeared out of nowhere won't have any of it.
Skonieczny's symbolic murder of a generation of parents is nothing new. Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Passolini, Michael Haneke, Todd Solondz and many others have done it before him. Like them, the debuting Polish director is opposing the middle-class social order which masks the truth about the human being, instead stuffing him into a white-collared suit. Is the Pole adding something new to the debate? I daresay not, but his story is a strong one.
In one of the first scenes Ola asks Marcin:
If you had a choice: would you rather burn or be frozen? But there's one condition: you don't lose consciousness, but you feel everything all the way up to death. […] Everybody always says they would prefer to freeze because it hurts less. I think the more it hurts the more interesting it is. It's more intense and our senses go fucking crazy instead of being numbed.
The girl is after hardcore sensations. She retreats into the world of parties and drugs. She's on the hunt for the fire which will make her feel more, while her family chooses to be frozen in social conventions. They're "laid-back parents", successful "professionals", trophy wives. Underneath the fake smiles and matching polo shirts lie unfulfillment and repressed anger.
Skonieczny's protagonist challenges this world order. He rejects its laws and judges them. Why? Where did he come from? Why this family and not another? We don't know. And it doesn't really matter. Skonieczny sees Marcin as the everyman, a human being deprived of psychological motivation and personal ties. He uses the same method as Haneke in "Funny Games" - where instead of making an outline of the cinematic world for the unknowing viewer, he throws him right in the middle of it. But unlike Haneke, the Polish director doesn't talk about self-generation and the nonsense of evil. His film portrays a clash between an old and a new world, between animalistic rebellion and middle-class complaisance. And although "Hardkor Disko" disappoints with its intellectual nit-picking, it wins the viewer over with its form and the daringness of the director.
Skonieczny draws inspiration from several masters of the cinema: Jarmush, Passolini (his strikingly similar "Teorema"), Kubrick and Kieślowski, as well as the new classics - Gaspar Noe, Nicolas Winding Refn. The Polish newcomer reproduces scenes and shots, all the while searching for his own style. His style is visible in the suspense that is built from the juxtaposition of music video-like fast-paced shots with ostentatious contemplation. Polish cinema hasn't had a film which audaciously knots together narration with rhythm for a long time.
The young film-maker makes a collage of short shots, making a video-clip like composition (he happens to be an accomplished director of music videos, with songs like "Nie ma cwaniaka na Warszawiaka" in his resumé). Minutes later the camera stands still. That's how one of his best scenes is built. Ola's parents are sitting at the table and invite Marcin to join them. They start small talk, a short introduction of who does what. Minutes later, from a safe distance, the camera freezes on the three of them. The conversation scene lasts a couple of minutes but remains dynamic throughout - thanks to the splendid acting.
Jaśmina Polak and Marcin Kowalczyk
With certainty, "Harkor Disko" has some of the best acting of the last couple of months. After his role in Leszek Dawid's "Jesteś bogiem" (You Are God), Marcin Kowalczyk was labelled "the hope of Polish cinema". Here, he proves that he is the most charismatic actor of the young generation. With a silent look, he expresses more than he would achieve with a powerful monologue. His on-screen partner - Jaśmina Polak, is also ravishing. She appeared for the first time in Aleksandra Terpińska's short "Święto zmarłych" (All Soul's Day) from 2011. In "Hardkor Disko", her feature début, she proves to be a promising and fascinating actress.
Janusz Chabior as the charmingly ordinary father and Agnieszka Wosińska as Warsaw's unfulfilled and youth-idealising Mrs. Robinson both show artistry in acting.
Krzysztof Skonieczny's film is a rare find for Polish cinema. It courageously seeks new cinematic language, breaks conventions, and is intriguigingly coarse and fantastically performed. "Hardkor Disko" is a film which provokes and irritates, questions but doesn't provide answers. Skonieczny leaves the viewer in a state of uncertainty, which, again, is not a common occurrence with Polish films.
Watch the official trailer: