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Hardkor Disco
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by Jay Seaver

"A nifty movie about... Ah, decide for yourself."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: Krzysztof Skonieczny seems to want the audience to assume the worst in "Hardkor Disco", although he and co-writer Robert Bolesto are very careful not to tip us off completely as to what it all means. Which, combined with the very precise way that Skonieczny goes about putting it together, it's got the potential to be a great "no, this is what's really going on!" movie.

After a few scenes that are most definitely up to the audience to interpret, a good-looking young man (Marcin Kowalczyk) - though one who had been playing with a knife a few scenes earlier - approaches an apartment and seems a little surprised when a young woman (Jasmina Polak) answers the door. He follows her, scares off the guy she's with, and lets her bring him home, thus meeting Aleksander (Janusz Chabior) and Pola (Angieszka Wosinska) at breakfast the next morning.

Interspersed with all of this are old videos of a young girl, possibly Ola and possibly not. Is there something about her that would explain why Marcin (the name he gives) would be coming to Warsaw to kill Aleksander & Pola? Possibly. Skonieczny and his cohorts drop enough hints that the viewer can continue to refine their theories throughout the film without often contradicting whatever is going on in the viewer's head - or, at least, that's how it worked for me. That's a delicate business; too often it can lead to audience frustration as filmmakers seem to go out of their way to give information, but Skonieczny just plays things close to the vest in a way that seems natural and invites the viewer to collaborate.

Much of that falls on Marcin Kowalczyk, whose namesake character is the one whose expressions we must project meaning to. What he does that's especially interesting is to keep the audience guessing how much Macin-the-character is acting; he really does give off the vibe of someone a parent might both hope and believe their troubled daughter would bring home, and there are looks on his face that suggest this is more his natural state than the one capable of quick violence when necessary. It gives him a great sort of hero/villain ambiguity, and makes the audience wonder him and Ola pairing off might be good for the pair.

The audience doesn't see quite as much of Jasmina Polak as Ola, but what it does see is pretty good; there's a volatile streak to the character that Polak keeps in check; she seldom seems outright self-destructive. She makes us believe that things with Marcin can move this fast without making Ola look the fool or unstable. She spars nicely with Janusz Chabior and Angieszka Wosinska as her parents. You can catch their basic personalities in about a minute; they seem like they've aged well at the expense of others.

With not a whole lot of exposition to give, Skonieczny and his crew carry a lot of the rest of the film's weight with style, and for a small movie, it looks incredibly good. The opening sequence of Marcin wandering a defunct amusement park is just the first of several times location is used to great advantage, and several scenes are shot in such a way that roads and valleys seem to extend deep into the screen. Skonieczny and his cinematographer pull off a couple of shots that alert viewers to pay attention to details by their trickiness, such as a breakfast shot head-on with reflections in the background that nonetheless hides the camera.

Because of the way this film is put together, reactions are likely to vary wildly both as to its quality (I've certainly lacked the patience for movies ike this before and hated them for it) and when discussing what it's about. But talking about just where "Hardkor Disco" is going is a great way to follow it up, and inspiring a spirited discussion is a good result.

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originally posted: 09/20/14 00:29:10
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