Having recently found himself in harsh and grim post-war Poland for Wojciech Smarzowski’s sombre Rose (Róza, 2011), Marcin Dorocinski is back again in award-winning wartime drama, Manhunt (Oblawa, 2012). On this occasion, he is part of the Polish resistance during the conflict rather then attempting to build a life after it, but the results are similarly bleak in Marcin Krzysztalowicz’s third feature film. A compelling central presence the thespian may once again prove to be, but the overall film is too confused to be truly powerful despite its unflinching portrayal of the varying greys of conflict morality.
In a hidden woodland base, the resistance soldiers barely survive on ever thinning food supplies and an increasingly cold winter. Dorocinski stars as the stone-cold partisan killer, Wydra (‘Otter’), who is tasked with taking Nazi informants out into the shrub and placing a firm bullet between their eyes. He is sent into town to the house of a wealthy businessman, and latest mark, who happens to be an old school-friend, Henryk (Maclej Stuhr). After convincing his acquaintance to accept his fate and accompany him the two men return to the woods to find the camp raided and the soldiers all dead. Henryk makes a run for it an Wydra must both finish his mission, and discover who gave up his comrades.
Although it has a relatively simple plot, Manhunt is constructed like a Matryoshka doll hoping to reveal its narrative in the form of a complex thriller. This is problematic in that the revelations are never quite ingenious enough to elicit shock, but also because the film requires its sentimental punches to be delivered in the same fashion. As the non-linear timeline slowly places isolated moments before a somewhat bemused audience, the story makes sense but they’re left grasping for emotional context. Luckily, Dorocinski is engaging enough not to allow attention to drift, but when other characters are forced to make difficult decisions, the impact is often lost due to the structure.
Solid support is provided by Stuhr, Sonia Bohosiewicz (as Henryk’s wife) and Weronika Rosati (as the camp doctor), but all three characters are left relatively unexplored. Henryk, in particular, is crying out for a more interesting and ambiguous treatment than he receives as a rather typical Nazi-sympathiser. Although not quite as unremitting as Rose, Manhunt is similarly dour both in its mood and its palette. There are impossible choices presented to characters who must then live with the consequences of their actions. Either way, they tend to provide food for thought more than the assault to the gut that might have accompanied a film with a more coherent composition.
The 11th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival runs from 7-17 March. For more info, visit kinoteka.org.uk.