An ornate, clinical study of gay identity in a predominantly Catholic Poland, Tomasz Wasilewski’s Floating Skyscrapers (2013) pulsates with vitality and sexual repression. A belligerent statement about contemporary attitudes towards LGBT culture, this confident sophomore feature appropriates arthouse aesthetics in a daringly barbed fashion. Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) is a young professional swimmer with an unquenchable appetite for carnal pleasure. His nightly dances between the sheets with girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) are punctuated by fellatio sessions with other men in the local pool’s toilets.
Kuba lives with Sylwia in his domineering mother’s (Katarzyna Herman) cramped, inner-city flat. Here, he and his mother share a complex relationship; he’s more than happy to scrub her back as she enjoys a soak in the bath, but finds himself constantly engaged in tense domestic disputes with her – often over Sylwia’s perceived encroachment. Kuba is also a young man unable to differentiate between intense physical desire and true love. It’s a revelation that becomes more apparent when he meets student Michal (Bartosz Gelner), ignoring the women in his life in favour of his new beau and exacerbating his tumultuous home life.
Told entirely through the libidinous and unflinching male gaze of its protagonist, Kuba (played with great intensity by Banasiuk), with Floating Skyscrapers Wasilewski couples the hypnotic employment of first-person perspective shots alongside short, sharp editing techniques to express Kuba’s constant search for gratification, ultimately suggesting a perpetual inability to find true fulfilment. This cold, undeniably formal approach also reflects the repressive attitudes towards homosexuality within Poland, with Wasilewski’s employment of rigid framing techniques and dramatic tension allowing the conformity of the medium to represent the oppressive decorum of traditional Polish (and Eastern European) values.
Thankfully, this composite of arthouse opulence and bodily eroticism rarely suffers from the type of overly enthusiastic gaucheness and flamboyance you’d expect from such a young director. Instead, it calls attention to a confident, polemic artist unafraid to push boundaries whilst simultaneously addressing topical social stigmas. The central cast’s performances are all of an exemplary standard and some of the film’s imagery is truly spellbinding, particularly one scene involving Kuba’s mother standing in front of a wall adorned with images of butterflies – a clear metaphor for her role in stifling her son’s sexual awakening.
Wasilewski’s detached and impassive approach, coupled with his decision to mold his story around a disagreeable protagonist, may deter some viewers. And yet, by focusing on the themes of sexual appetite and gratification rather than humane emotions, Floating Skyscrapers becomes a far more interesting work, concerning itself with the complexities of sexuality rather than the trivialities of one character’s subjective romance. A fresh and invigorating perspective on modern Polish culture, Wasilewski’s masterfully orchestrated, elegantly framed and intensely provocative film is one of the year’s best LGBT efforts.