Three years ago, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2009) presented an extraordinary feature length debut by director Katarzyna Roslaniec called "Mall Girls".
Coming to TIFF 2012 is a new film from this talented director. Entitled "Baby Blues", it will be showing at TIFF 2012 Monday September 10 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 9 6:00 PM, Wednesday September 12 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 4 9:00 PM and Saturday September 15 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 2 12:15 PM.
I have had a chance since I first saw "Mall Girls" to see it a couple of more times. Here's a new revised version of a piece I first wrote in 2009.
Galerianki (2009) ***1/2
Dir. Katarzyna Roslaniec
Starring: Anna Karczmarczyk,
Dagmara Krasowska, Dominika Gwit, Magdalena Ciurzynska
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The most alarming trend in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism has been the sexual exploitation of women. In spite of the promise of a new life through capitalism and the free market, pretty much all of these countries have suffered a drastic rise in poverty and homelessness.
Add to the mix an Old World patriarchy that remains entrenched in Slavic cultures, a veritable explosion of organized crime and an increasing demand for sexual services – life for many young women has become desperate, cheap and dangerous. The combination of basic needs not being met and an ever-multiplying Western-styled consumerism creeping into the consciousness of the people through advertising has meant a rise in women either choosing to be prostitutes, or worse (as so expertly detailed in investigative journalist Victor Malarek’s shocking book “The Natashas”), women are duped and/or kidnapped and subsequently forced into prostitution. One million women per year from Eastern Europe disappear and are sold into sexual slavery.
Mall Girls, a Polish film by director Katarzyna Roslaniec, is a terrific feature length debut. Focusing upon the lives of several disadvantaged 14-year-old girls, it is an exquisitely directed piece of filmmaking.
Using a swirling, occasionally jittery camera and settings that offer stunning contrasts between the colour-dappled world of the mall where the girls find true happiness and the dank hallways and scuzzy, cramped apartments in housing projects where the grime and poverty ache with despair, Roslaniec creates a visual palate that reflects the dichotomous lives of the girls. We see both the dreams (the mall, consumerism and easy money) and the realities (squalid homes where physical abuse and poverty run rampant, cramped classrooms presided over by frustrated teachers and sordid backdrops for all manner of sexual activity).
When I first saw the film, I felt quite strongly that an intermittently fine screenplay betrayed this perfection by veering into territory that seemed too expected and finally, much too convenient. Luckily, the film holds up very well on subsequent viewings in spite of this.
I still feel like the story rushes to a conclusion that strains the credibility the film garners in its first two-thirds. I wonder now, too, if this is less a script problem as perhaps one that occurred with respect to exigencies of production (perhaps on-set rewriting to compensate for lack of time to garner all the elements on the page) and/or post-production (where the result might have been a lack of footage to begin with or a second-guessing of what footage existed). Or, perhaps this is precisely the way the director wanted to make it. And there are also several elements within the screenplay that do work beautifully in tandem with other elements that work very well.
My quibbles aside, Roslaniec ends the film with such a daring and evocative final shot, that one forgives and frankly forgets the script’s eventual deficiencies in its last act. Film, after all, is a visual medium and as such, the final image speaks volumes.
The movie is dazzlingly directed and Roslaniec elicits fresh, natural and realistic performances from her young cast. All these elements combine to exquisitely capture the contrasts in these girls’ lives. Between their burgeoning sexuality and their willingness to risk it all for emotionless, loveless sex in exchange for money and other favours, the film delivers reality-based polar opposites to render a very solid narrative conflict that drives the film forward.
Mall Girls very successfully navigates the area of public school peer pressure and the various rollercoaster-like emotional rides these women are taken on, and indeed, choose to take.
This touching portrait of how womanhood in European cultures rooted in a Slavic tradition is assaulted, perverted and exploited is imbued with a very indelible reality. In a society and culture so full of promise, it bitterly offers only despair and easy ways to make poor and often tragic choices.
Countries like Poland, Russia and Ukraine have an ages-old history of a warrior mentality. It might take another thousand years to fully dissipate. Though in fairness to those traditions, one could also point to Western influences as having their own form of negative impact upon the treatment of women. To blend that with a male-centric combatants' mentality is a highly combustible mixture.