Ben Nicholson

Kinoteka 2013: ‘Shameless’ review

★★★☆☆

Tales of incest are unlikely to be the easiest of sells, but director Filip Marczewski does an admirable job of handling said material in Shameless (Bez wstydu, 2012). An intense melodrama that screened last weekend as part of the 11th Polish Film Festival, it deftly handles its subject matter and explores the lead characters without vilifying them. Although it fumbles attempts to interweave subplots involving neo-Nazis and gypsy minorities, strong performances make it one to watch. We begin with the teenage Tadzik (Mateusz Kosiukiewicz) leaping from a moving train, catching the eye of local girl Irmina (Anna Próchniak).

Tadzik soon arrives at the door of his older sister, Anka (Agnieszka Grochowska), and his lingering gaze soon reveals that she is the object of his affections. Claiming to be visiting on holiday, Tadzik sets about making himself at home and clearly intends to win Anka’s heart, despite their blood relation. She, on the other hand, is intending to marry Andrzej (Maclej Marczewski), the leader of a local neo-Nazi group.

Marczewski’s Shameless really excels in the time it devotes to the portrayal of Tadzik and Anka’s complex brother-sister relationship. Their inappropriate intimacy is a constant thorn in the side – encouraging the younger sibling’s heartfelt desire, whilst at the same time torturing him when his sister naturally rebukes him for his advances. Their feelings for one another are delicately nuanced, though, and Anka’s provocative behaviour implies that her brother’s more-than-fraternal affections have long been encouraged. They are also wonderful to watch for the moments in which they just revel in each other’s company. Sadly, where the film falters is in its attempts to expand the story beyond the central tryst.

The lead duo provide riveting viewing, yet Shameless’ various subplots feel somewhat extraneous due to their resulting underdevelopment. Irmina’s cultural battle to be accepted as an individual and an academic despite being a woman, as well as the hostilities between her community and Andrzej’s charges, all end up half-baked and contributing little in the way of narrative intrigue or enlightenment. Still, its central relationship is the true heart of Marczewski’s drama, and it’s here that attention belongs.

The inevitable conclusion of the heightening sexual tension and its deceptively ambiguous conclusion make for far more interesting viewing than a basic plot outline might suggest. Thanks to two compelling lead performances, there are some terrific scenes to be found in Marczewski’s Shameless; if anything, it’s just regrettable that the focus wasn’t constricted solely to the sibling frisson.

The 11th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival runs from 7-17 March. For more info, visit kinoteka.org.uk.

Ben Nicholson