Warsaw 83, An Affair of State: A relentless spy thriller [critique]

An exciting and suffocating dive into the communist Poland of General Jaruzelski around the murder of a teenager by police officers

Interior, backlight. Warsaw, 1983. A teenager’s room in which breathes everywhere a fierce desire for rock’n’roll emancipation. Nothing more banal. The shot frames two almost motionless young boys, caught in a moment of perfect communion. Then the camera moves into the cramped quarters of a small apartment where the open doors abolish the boundaries between sacred intimacy and a family life open to the four winds: we can guess here leaflets, remnants of secret meetings, an intellectual fauna and subversive activates and remakes the world. Barbara (Sandra Korzeniak), mother of one of the two teenagers, ardently militates for confiscated freedom. Outside, the Polish People’s Republic of General Jaruzelski offers a frozen horizon. The country is summoned to be wise. The first fires of Solidarność, a movement advocating the independence of the trade unions so far subdued by the communist regime, tense the authorities. Our two teenagers, detached from this reality, have since left the small apartment to taste the air of a city that could well exult with them. Except that two cops take advantage of a brutal identity check to bring these two too free electrons, to a completely different interior: a police station where one of them is going to be beaten to death by a handful of unleashed police officers.

Thus begins the film and with it what the press of the time called ” the Przemyk case in which a state murder was disguised as a “simple” accident due in part to the negligence of two orderlies. From the first sequences, the staging uses a remarkable fluidity to describe a space that has only its partitioning to offer. This apparent duality does not intend to express a contradiction head-on, but to create malaise, discomfort, as if different realities were seeking at all costs to impose synchronization. This dark story is obviously only about that. In the press kit that accompanies the release of his film, filmmaker Jan P. Matuszynski (The Last Family) Explain: “ The only reason the case resurfaced is the presence of an eyewitness. And if a look can deny an official version suddenly extricated from its blind spot, the stories can no longer agree. The film will then beat to the rhythm of this “eyewitness”, Jurek (Tomasz Zietek). The space, the beings and the figures that surround him will soon reflect something other than what they are supposed to show. The insidious paranoia slowly sets in. For Jurek, the only tangible image, the one that cannot be called into question, is of course the death of his boyfriend in the police station.

It remains to be seen how to make this sequence, which has become invisible and of which he alone is the custodian, “speak”. Can it be incarnated if he himself can no longer recognize the faces of the aggressors very well once out of this impossible context? The pressure exerted by the forces of the regime necessarily calls for a gradual erasure. It is embodied everywhere. It’s the friend of the family casually tossing a warning between coffee and dessert; it is the victim’s mother, cornered everywhere, who suddenly gives up; he’s a poor bugger forced to replay a situation that never happened… How to stay straight when reality is askew? Jurek becomes the symbol of a confiscation. It only remains for him to hammer out one and the same sentence in a loop in front of his judges to reclaim things a little and make his truth heard. Warsaw 83 is a wonderful story of confinement, a spy thriller that seeks less to impress the gallery with a lot of imposed figures than to show the cogs of an underground mechanism that gradually takes possession of your relationship to the world. A shock.

By Jan P. Matuszynski. With: Tomasz Zietek, Sandra Korzeniak, Jacek Braciak… Duration: 2h39. Released May 4, 2022

Leave a Reply