Two frail characters are approaching on a dirt road, keeping close while taking faltering steps. Their thin, white hair looks like a halo in contre-jour. This is how we are introduced to Mieczysław and Alfons Kułakowski, two brothers of roughly 90 years of age who share a roof in one of the sparsely populated areas of Poland.
Their lives have been troubled and sorrowful. When they were still children they were deported with their families to Siberia. In the 1940s they managed to escape and then lived in different places in the former USSR. Mieczysław worked as a cartographer, Alfons had a career as a respected painter. They only returned to their former home country in the late 1990s. Now that they are back in their ancestral house, they do not depend on outside help, but rely on and help each other. Alfons is more agile, the creative energy of his painting unbroken. Repeatedly, he stands outside in front of his easel, painting in vivid colours.
During many years, the internationally acclaimed cinematographer Wojciech Staron paid recurring visits to the two brothers. He took plenty of time to become a part of their daily lives, also visiting them without his camera. Once he started filming, he still needed some patience until the brothers began behaving naturally. Capturing the slow passing of time in the old men’s lives is one of the strong points of this film, creating a concentrated intimacy almost exclusively by means of the image.
The 42-year-old filmmaker Staron is interested in real stories and attempts to capture people in their entirety. His calm images exude a fascinating vigour; they are intense paintings that inspire their viewers’ imagination and create allegories of life. They fill the screen with a certain purity, giving the two protagonists ample space to develop. There is no unnecessary movement in the frame, and in their old age the two men are not exactly talkative. The past is rendered in skilfully incorporated 8mm clips, which serve to visualise the episodes in Siberia and their time in exile. Life has one last journey in store for Alfons Kułakowski: In 2009, part of his large oeuvre of paintings is on display in the Palais des Nations in Brussels. He attends the opening with his brother Mieczysław. Upon their return, they face yet another life challenge.