In Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska’s fantasy-infused psychological drama Fugue, a woman loses her memory following a traumatic incident and comes back to her old life with a radically new personality. The crisis arises not when she attempts to reconcile with her past, but rather when she doesn’t.
Trauma literally changes the protagonist of Fugue. Not only does the newly named Alicja (Gabriela Muskala) not recognise the people who claim they were a part of her former life. She also does not want to. She feels, behaves and even looks different, her leopard print tights and cropped black hair a far cry from the blonde, high-heeled figure we see tottering out of the train tracks in the film’s opening moments.
Although traces of muscle memory still remain, the complete void that she finds herself in instinctively closes off all interest in the past. Offered a clean slate as it were, she wants to look to the future now and is willing to wait around only till her ID card arrives. It is no wonder then that at the first family gathering that she is brought into following her discovery via a television channel, she is hostile to everyone but the old lady who possibly as a result of age and illness appears as clueless about her surroundings as she is.
Bathed in blues and greys, there is a coldness that spreads across the film, affecting mood, tone and behaviour. The desolate winter that lurks outside reaches inwards, creeping into homes and hearts. Actress Gabriela Muskala who also wrote the script delivers a tense, seething central performance as the woman who rises from the dead, the idea emphasised repeatedly through hallucinations where she sees herself sleeping in soil or pushing out of a grave or in the actual headstone that she is shown, built so that the family could have closure. Her hard stares and muscular, almost ‘animalistic’ movements, as her director described in an interview, imbues the whole film with a strained energy.
The film builds around her, no other character even remotely as fleshed out as hers. The resentment that she carries around inside radiates outwards influencing both husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat) and son Daniel (Iwo Rajski). It is an anger directed both at the world that she no longer recognises and also at her inability to trust her own mind anymore, as evidenced in a panic-stricken, windswept sequence at the beach. The familiar idea, used often in stories about memory loss, of the disorientation of people who have learnt with great effort to move on from a traumatic incident only to be hurled back into it is also present in Fugue.
But what is more interesting is the comment that is made about instinctive maternal behaviour. Even when she slowly begins to bond again with Daniel and Krzysztof, it is always resolutely as her new self. Finally, in the film’s long closing sequence, the camera which has followed her around throughout lets her free, as if stepping back to allow her the freedom to choose her future now that she knows what lies in her past.
Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2018 runs from 25 Oct-1 Nov. mumbaifilmfestival.com