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Non-Review Review: Courage (Wymyk)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

Courage is a fascinating little Polish film, with an interesting dramatic hook. Director Greg Zglinski offers a searing portrait of masculinity and impotence in the twenty-first century, where ever moment and action and decision seems to be documented for future use – our private failures of judgment ultimately become public spectacles, and in this era of globalisation and instant media connections, it’s impossible to escape the consequences of one bad split-second decision. While Zglinski’s film might overstay even its relatively short runtime, it does raise some interesting and challenging ideas about heroism in the twenty-first century.

Oh, brother!

It’s hard not to read a large amount of political commentary into the script, written by director Greg Zglinski and co-writer Janusz Marganski. It’s a story about two brothers with two very distinct identities and philosophies. Alfred (“Fred”) is the older brother of the pair, the one who sacrificed his college education to take care of his father when he had a stroke. When it comes to managing the small internet and cable company the family runs, Fred is conservative – he’s happy to exist as the largest and most successful provider in a rather small market. He rejects the prospect of a merger to help consolidate the company, because it would involve outsiders. The company is independent and successful – it will live on, without any risk-taking or any loss of social or cultural identity. This is a man who does not have any children of his own.

His younger brother, Jerzy, is very much the opposite – as brothers in stories like this tend to be. Unlike Fred, Jerzy has seen the world. He studied abroad. He has ambitions and plans for expansion. His wife is gone, but Jerzy takes good care of his two children. It’s hinted that he’s a bit of a romantic, an idealist. He seems to firmly believe in doing the right thing, even when it isn’t necessarily pragmatic to do so. Nowhere is the contrast between the pair of siblings more evident than in the office they share at the company. Fred’s desk is stately, wooden, and he uses an old desktop computer. Jerzy, in contrast, uses a sleek and functional metallic desk, and appears to use a Mac.

He's not trained for this...

It’s difficult not to read too much into this, as events unfold, and the pair get involved in an unfortunate scuffle on a busy train. While a bunch of youths pick on a young woman, Jerzy wants to interfere. Fred urges him to keep his head down and to allow it to pass. Of course, Jerzy is too idealistic and head-strong to do so, making a grand romantic gesture by standing up to those young and violent thugs. What happens next profoundly impacts both men, and offers a pretty scorching exploration of modern masculinity.

I can’t help but feel like director Greg Zglinski is offering something of a commentary on global politics. The two brothers seem to represent Europe and America, and their vastly differing moral philosophies. Fred, the elder brother, is Europe. He collects old guns, relics of past conflicts that he carries around like trophies, angry and bitter that his place has been usurped by his younger brother. He feels that he should be making the big decisions of the company, and that they need to remain completely isolated and independent, dealing with their own problems and concerns. The movie implies that his philosophy has rendered him obsolete – he has no children to succeed him, only trinkets to surround him.

Poles apart...

In contrast, Jerzy seems to reflect American ideals. We’re told that he studied in Florida, a location that played a pivotal role in an election that defined the twenty-first century. The partners he wants to bring into his father’s business are, of course, Americans themselves. He seems to hold lofty ambitions of “big business”, with his plans almost colossal in scale. When his delivery arrives, Fred is literally lost among all the boxes. He acts on a moral imperative, and it’s hard not to read his defense of the young lady as a commentary on American foreign policy, as he involves himself in a situation he doesn’t understand, but for he what he perceives to be morally correct.

His actions have very dire consequences, but the film never condemns him as a moron or and idiot for failing to adopt the more pragmatic approach of ignoring the suffering of others. While Fred’s attitude might cost them less in the long run, it’s also a position of moral cowardice. There are no right answers, and director Zglinski is smart enough to allow his viewers to make up their own minds about the subject matter in question.

He hasn't a prayer...

While the film has a fascinating hook, it suffers a bit from lack of focus. It jumps around the consequences of that confrontation, but it doesn’t really offer us a straight through-line. It seems like things just unfold in sequence, rather than developing organically. It’s not a long film, but it seems to have a bit of difficulty extending its basic premise past that original hook, which is a bit of a shame. I can’t help but feel that, were the movie tightened up a bit, we’d have a far stronger film on our hands. It doesn’t really feel like anybody learns or grows from the experiences, they just sort of react to them, which lends the movie a rather downbeat tone.

The two leads, Robert Wieckiewicz and Lukasz Simlat, do some great work as the pair of brothers, with Wieckiewicz in particular excelling in the role of Fred. The rest of the supporting cast is quite strong, especially Gabriela Muskala as Fred’s wife, although nobody really gets a chance to shine like the leading two actors. Greg Zglinski’s direction is tight, but functional – he doesn’t interfere too much with his cast, which lends the movie a nice naturalistic style, but also feels a little bit too passive.

Right said Fred...

Still, Courage is a solid little film, with some very big and very clever ideas. It suffers a bit from a lack of focus and structure, but it’s worth a look for those with an interest in Polish cinema.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2

2 Responses

  1. That is some daft reviewing and the idea that the brothers represent America and Europe is particularly unfortunate.

    • Thanks Maria. I am glad that my opinions on the film are clearly objectively and completely wrong, and that you felt the need to inform me of that without offering any considered criticism or counterpoints. They just are, apparently. After all, perish the thought that people might hold differing opinions on a work of art. That is crazy talk, right there. After all, there is only one possible way to interpret anything and all other viewpoints are just nonsense.

      However, in the interests of generating a bit more of a discussion other than the fact that I’m apparently wrong (and, seemingly, an idiot), why do you think that?

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