Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jeunet's Bitter Cousin

Jan Jakub Kolski
Jan Jakub Kolski is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s bitterer cousin. His cinema is Jeunet’s, but with its general atmosphere of upbeatness upturned. Both directors make films about compulsive eccentrics, with a whole list of accompanying quirks (real quirk, not in the American sense: where quirk is ‘cool’) that can render the characters pleasantly odd, as they seem in Jeunet’s films, but also make them appear downright repulsive, as they seem in Kolski’s films. A Jeunet film may often appear as a national contest of the eccentrics, where each character brandishes his own exclusive set of oddities, and the oddest takes home the prize – literally, because the winner takes home an attractive member of the opposite sex – thus emphatically stating the belief that eccentricity is easily translatable to accomplishment. In a Kolksi film however, characters are forced to come to terms with their quirkiness. They are made to pay for their diversions from a more ‘normal’ manner of being – therefore, while a Jeunet film rewards its eccentric’s defiance of the convention, a Kolski film punishes it. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to look at the films of both the filmmakers as contemplative reflections of the political climates of their nations – the independence of Jeunet’s France and the repression of Kolksi’s Poland. What Jeunet’s films celebrate, Kolski’s condemn.

No more film is symptomatic of such a quality than his breakthrough 1993 film Johnny Aquarius, where an old peasant discovers powers of heroic proportions within himself – the ability to heal by using water. As news of his near-divine talent spreads, he gains immense celebrity as a healer. He gains renown as a sort of messiah – but the unfortunate accompaniments of fame (presented in a series of blatant symbols by Kolski, who obviously derides the idea of excessive fame) : an ostentatious mode of vehicle, sexy women and a immovable set of loyalists (or groupies) tempt the old peasant to relinquish his ‘normal’ old life, and he does. He leaves his wife and his newborn behind to revel in his newfound status as the ‘chosen one’ – but as with the other Kolski film playing at the festival (Pornografia, 2003), deviation such as this from the normal course of life is castigated with great immediacy. Johnny loses his powers, and thus, his celebrity – and in one of the most simultaneously obvious and slight symbolic montages in recent times – he is shown as being stationary on one bench for five years, thus being converted into a ‘monument’ or a ‘deity’, that is useless despite being monumental. He breaks away from his motionless state (predictably, its a Kolski film) and returns to peasant life, symbolized by the final scene, where he sits at the head of the dining table and consumes a modest rural lunch with his wife and his son. Such relinquishment of eccentricity and return to a pre-assigned role is what forms the central quality of a Kolski film.

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