The Hater (Sala samobójców. Hejter) (2020) by Jan Komasa

The Oscar-nominated combination of Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz returns with high ambitions. They have a lot to tell about modern societal dynamics and the film is rich in layers. Sadly, the film puts too heavy a load on the shoulders of its young protagonist.

2.5 out of 4 stars

The black sheep of the family

Tomasz Giemza behaves in a certain way while he’s having sex. He tends to hold the woman by the throat. This tells a lot about him and it shows how minutely observant Mateusz Pacewicz is as a writer. The film, from the acclaimed combination of Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz, primarily concerns itself with suppressed anger. It spills everywhere, from street riots to video games and even the way people have sex. Alarmingly, none of it appears fictional. It is a shocking realization that these exact dimensions are part of the very society we live in. Also because of this, we can understand how such hidden aggression develops. In fact, it is somewhere in all of us. The greed to move up the ladder. And when we fail to climb up, the rage against the ones above.

Tomasz (Maciej Musialowski) is one of us. He comes from the countryside. There is a couple who used to be his neighbors back home. Now they have become prosperous in the city. Consequently, they refer to their place of origin as a place where they sometimes went ‘on vacation’. But for Tomasz, they are his uncle and aunt. When he arrives in the city, he goes to visit them. The cultural difference is palpable. It’s made more conspicuous when the hosts make fun of Tomasz after he leaves. They are paying for his college fees. But that’s mainly because they want to feel good about themselves. The couple has a daughter, Gabi (Vanessa Aleksander), whom Tomasz knew as a kid. She has grown up to be beautiful and immediately gets his attention.

Gabi too takes a liking to Tomasz. But in the city, liking doesn’t mean love, it just means a couple of kisses. Tomasz doesn’t know this. He shares a secret about himself to her. Gabi wants to look good before her parents. Her older sister is successful. Her parents are prosperous and powerful. She’s a drug addict. She tells this secret to her parents so that for a while she’s not the family’s black sheep.

A winding route to revenge

Therefore, the family rejects Tomasz. They didn’t like his country roots in any case. For them, that’s is where the problem lies. It hints at the way we feel about people of other religions and cultures. Tomasz comes to know that the family is supporting Pawel Rudnicki (Maciej Stuhr) as the next Mayor. If he doesn’t win, apparently, they’ll kill themselves. Tomasz makes it his agenda to defeat this man.

It’s always a risk to have a plot bigger than the scope of your characters. Because then the objectives of the makers tend to become clearer. You don’t want to know whether objectives are fulfilled. You want to know whether protagonists get what they want. In any other situation, Tomasz would not have taken such a winding route to revenge. He does so here because of the prior agendas set upon by the filmmakers. So Tomasz enters the media to expose how modern journalism is controlled by politics. Then he enters Pawel’s camp as a supporter. He even manipulates Pawel into giving some compromising footage about himself.

All the while, you wonder how a man of city politics can get driven by a country lad. You are trying to figure out why they didn’t do a background check of Tomasz before allowing him into their camp. You are also wondering how a law student knows so much about hacking.

Revel without a cause

By now, it becomes pretty clear that it’s not really about Gabi. But once Gabi departs for the US in the middle of the film, the extreme efforts Tomasz makes to bring down Pawel becomes completely pointless. More so because Pawel seems to be the only person to have a real liking for Tomasz. It appears that Tomasz strongly believes in the impurity of this world. So anything pure is not suitable here. The rest of the film shows the degree to which Tomasz goes and the repercussions they bring upon the entire society.

It’s admirable that the film is rich in layers. Tomasz acts against immigrants by highlighting their violence. What he doesn’t realize is that, like them, he too is a sidelined person screaming for attention. Both have origins deviated from the cultural roots of this modernized city. However, the people of this city do not hesitate to immigrate to other places with better living conditions. It is a chain with two essential qualities, which are, climbing up and kicking the one below.

The film does well to evoke such relevant underlying themes. But it puts too much on the young shoulders of its country protagonist. A lot of things Tomasz does in the second half of the film appear implausible and pointless. They might be relevant to the makers’ objectives, but not to who Tomasz really is. They also appear highly unrealistic. That Tomasz can easily get away with anti-social activities might render Warsaw’s security agencies to become really angry with the filmmakers. The only anchor within such exaggerated developments is Maciej Musialowski. As Tomasz, Maciej evokes an iciness that is never alienating. This is mainly because when he’s emotional, he can be extremely convincing.

Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz crafted an Oscar-nominated work just a year back. So it’s quite natural that they would aim high this time around. But, like Tomasz, they have taken a much bigger bite than they can chew.

Credits (from IMDb):
Directed by

Jan Komasa

Written by

Mateusz Pacewicz

Cinematography by

Radek Ladczuk … (as Radoslaw Ladczuk)

Editing by

Aleksandra Gowin

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The Eternal Road (Ikitie) (2017) by Antti-Jussi Annila

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