Described by its writer and director Tomasz Wasilewski as “the first Polish LGBT film”, Floating Skyscrapers (2013) boldly goes where n Pole has gone before in its intricate study of repressed homosexuality. Mateusz Banasiuk stars as aspiring champion swimmer Kuba, an ambitious athlete with the world at his feet. However, when feelings for the boys at his pool float to the surface, problems at home begin arise, made all the more complicated by the fact that he and his girlfriend are cohabiting with his resentful mother. Attending a gallery opening with his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), Kuba shares a cigarette with the handsome Michal (Bartosz Gelner).
As Kuba’s training programme intensifies so too do his feelings for Michal – believing that he must sacrifice one for the other, much to the disapproval of his overbearing mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman). The couple’s increasing mutual affection escalates against a backdrop of disapproving urbanity and conflicting familial expectations. Kuba must fight for what he wants, but in this deep pool of conflict, it’s inevitable that someone is going to get hurt. Great attention is given to minor detail, with Wasilewski pushing forward the narrative with strong visuals and sound effects over explanatory dialogue. The subtle moans, groans and heavy breaths from behind closed doors that mark the opening of the film pave the way for all that follows.
The lead roles are characterised through various eye level shots and a lingering lens that captures indicative and natural expressions. In moments of freedom, Kuba is filtered in natural hues, with his guilt captured in cold blues that embrace or chill the viewer almost unknowingly. Equal attention is given to sound, matching scenes with ethereal breaths, breeze or a mounting dirty beat to increase tension. It’s all mastered beautifully, with each prolific scene made visually arresting with immaculate symmetrical framing. Yet Floating Skyscrapers’ screenplay, perhaps groundbreaking in its homeland, is nothing new here. It shares various plot threads with Sally El Hosaini’s remarkable debut My Brother the Devil (2012), and is largely formulaic in its unfolding.
It’s Wasilewski’s thoughtful execution that sets his film apart. Although dominated by Banasiuk and Gelner, the evolution of their courtship brings out unexpectedly remarkable performances from the secondary female characters. Nieradkiewicz’s rejected Sylwia proves, with her subtle physical nuances, that actions can often speak much louder than informative discourse. Similarly (slightly) underused, Herman makes a fearful and intimidating impression as the demanding matriarch, restraining her son with her unremitting apron strings and adding depth to Kuba’s self-centred condition. Performed by all with great assurance and composed with distinguished directorial flair, Floating Skyscrapers is refined Polish cinema at its most unrelentingly raw.
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