Best Documentaries 2015



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.