Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Vigilante Killing

The quick shower of snow prevented me from doing what I had planned,

From 2011 12

So I thought I would look again at a film that I would call something like 'Vigilante Killing' as the Polish title 'Lincz' (pronounced lynch) isn't about a lynching as I understand that in English.

The film is basically about how law, on the one side, and justice, on the other, should treat a gang of local villagers who beat to death a violent hoodlum who was terrorising their womenfolk: a recent real life story. The police lacked the resources to give them immediate help.

The hoodlum is brilliantly played by Wiesław Komasa: the best presentation of a villainous character that I can think of in any Polish film. I couldn't find a worthwhile clip of his role that I could embed, but there is a short one at, which gives a general idea. Although he comes across well in the clip, the whole performance in the film is much better, with the camera getting capturing his moods and personality. The following clip has him talking about the film in Polish, much of which is on the DVD "making of...", which has English subtitles.

It was only on seeing the "Making of..." today that I realised what the ultimate failure of the film was (for me) in dealing with the issue of law and justice. The gang catch and beat up the villain as no-one else (ie the Police) could do anything. That's fine. The fact that they beat him so severely that he dies is something I could understand emotionally, especially as no one could prove that they intended to kill him, but, ultimately, I would agree that the law should be there to prevent this level of unnecessary violence: a manslaughter/second degree murder conviction and punishment would be understandable. However, that the gang just left him there to die without calling an ambulance or even just calling the police to say that they had got the man and where to find him, pushes the action into the boundary between plain murder and manslaughter. Despite my normal prejudice that Polish prosecutors are out to cynically get the best result for themselves, I found myself fully in sympathy with the prosecutor. To find at the very end that there was such strong public sympathy for the killers that they were given a presidential pardon was quite shocking.

However, the film pretty much just left it hanging there and I couldn't tell what the film was trying to say. The "Making of ..." explained it all. The director thought everyone would know from the real life story that the killers were innocent and shouldn't have been convicted. He didn't therefore feel any need to make any case for it in the film. It was all about the harshness and unfairness of the law and the cynical nature of the prosecutor, which instead of being obvious to me, suggested that he was probably right. (Nicely and sympathetically acted by Krzysztof Franieczek, although it was just a standard handsome prosecutor role. Interestingly from the commentary, he was trying to be harsh and cynical, but I thought he portrayed an independent and objective law official.)

I must also mention Tamara Arciuch who, I think unintentionally, looked extremely evil as the defence attorney, but her lines were 100% TV cop show stereotype.

Anyway, what the film brought home to me is the value that a jury has in arbitrating between law and justice. Poland doesn't have a jury system and, as I think the film intended to portray (but failed), there can be harsh justice when all that is taken into account is the letter of the law. This can never be written in a way that could cover all eventualities requiring human sympathy. The film seems to think prosecutors should do this, but should they be concerned about enforcing the law rather than making personal judgements? I don't want to claim the jury system is better - I have no idea and no view, so I can see what the issue is, but I do not see any solution and the film doesn't help me in anyway in considering what the solution might be.

The "Making of ..." has the Director explaining that one of the features of the case is the difference between the cities ans the rural areas. However, his portrayal of the killers and their families as poor uneducated hicks in a lawless wild west seems in itself to be the standard view of city sophisticates. He does not come across as fair to them, but completely patronising. Is unnecessarily beating someone to death really something one should accept in rural areas, but not in cities?

I do take away the reinforced message that the value I put on human life is higher than that of many Polish people, although I find it interesting from the film that the law and it's officials seem to agree with me. Maybe, however, I'm just a sensitive city guy? Well, I also take away the idea that I am more violent. When I watched the the clip in the film itself, my immediate thought was "why did the guy with the shovel use the flat part to hit the villain. I would have used the cutting edge and really have done some damage". (I also thought the director had made a complete mess of the timing between the knife coming down and the shovel being used: the man being attacked on the ground would already have been dead.) That would have been an obvious and justifiable way of settling the whole thing.

Once (long before the film) when I was swinging my axe when cutting wood for the fire, I wondered what would happen if an intruder (eg burglar) came along and I killed him: the middle sized axe would be a more practical choice as the large axe would be less manoeuvrable, if more immediately lethal. The British answer to this is that 'reasonable' or 'appropriate' force should only be used, which may be difficult to judge, but at least I have some sort of guideline. (I would have called the police immediately, of course.) Although the film doesn't really help with the legal consequences, I could at least hope to get away with murder and be pretty certain of becoming a media hero.

Still, taste in films is very different for different people. The adverts for the film call it the most moving Polish films for ages. Personally, I wonder whether a director with more talent could take the raw footage and make something better: re-editing; sharpening of the pictures to make it appear more real and less ethereal (eliminating all the digital colouring, one of the curses of unskilled modern movie making) and changing the music. The film could be a completely different and challenging work. Mind you, the standard, unemotional (urban?) Polish acting style makes everything seem underplayed, so it might still fail. There's a scene where an old women in the film could have been given that incredible high pitched screeching pleading sound: it would have been a perfect dramatic moment. One sees/hears the sound so much on TV news, etc, but it seems taboo for films. There is an actor - the one on the ground in the clip - that I would have said was totally miscast, being fat and soft looking - very urban affluent, whilst playing a poor, rural outdoor worker. However, he won a best newcomer award, so what do I know?

As a final comment on the film, another compliment of sorts: the film makes good use of 5.1 surround sound, which is unusual enough for Polish films that a person watching with me commented on the high sound quality.

On another film, whatever happened to the "Battle of Warsaw"? It sounded pretty dire, but it had a quick round of opening advertising publicity and then seemed to disappear into the ether: I didn't hear anyone talking about it to recommend it or otherwise. A Chicago Polish film prize for innovation: it was in 3D, fine but what about the quality of the film? Is it so bad that, like Katyn, it will quickly appear as a cheap magazine film: 9.99 or 12.99 zloties and then soon after as an 8zl ex-magazine film?

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