Go and see Rezerwat with any expectation of ground-breaking cinema or thought-provoking narrative you’ll likely be disappointed. Go with the expectation of a simple heart-warming story and a bit of light comedic relief and you’ll have no regrets about parting with the ticket price. This recently released (January 2008) film from director Lukasz Palkowski tells the story of a broken down tenement building and its impecunious residents in the notoriously poverty-stricken and delinquent Praga district of eastern Warsaw. Marcin (Marcin Kwasny), a struggling young photographer, is forced to move into this undesirable neighbourhood after his posh-totty girlfriend slings him out on his ear. The owner of the tenement lets him live there rent free in exchange for a photographic survey of the building and its residents; claiming that he needs this to get an estimate on renovation costs.
Sonia Bohosiewicz as hairdresser / tart-with-a-heart Hanka B.
Inevitably Marcin becomes embroiled in the lives of the tenants; particularly the life of the captivating blonde from upstairs (Sonia Bohosiewicz) who may or may not be a prostitute. Equally inevitably the landlord’s real motivation is to prove to the authorities that the building is beyond hope so that he can knock it down and make piles of cash by putting up a swanky new glass and stainless steel apartment block in its place. The love story with the blonde from upstairs, who styles herself ‘Hanka B,’ proceeds along predictable lines with the expected obstacles of a punch-happy ex-con boyfriend, scurrilous rumours about her virtue, and the yawning cultural gap that separates her from the educated bohemian Marcin. The clincher comes in a vodka-fueled scene that every red-blooded male viewer is anticipating from the moment he realizes it’s film about a photographer and a busty blonde.
Running parallel to the love story is another involving a roguish 12-year-old boy (Grzegorz Palkowski) who steals Marcin’s camera and proves, again rather predictably, to have a precocious talent with the lens. Marcin finally gets his big break in the form of a photo-feature about Praga in a national newspaper, but who really took the photos; him or the lad? Will he come clean? Will the buxom Hanka forgive him? Will the tenants be evicted from their homes? And will the boorish woman-beating boyfriend get his comeuppance? I won’t spoil anything by answering these questions, but I think you can take a pretty shrewd guess.
Assorted drunks, knuckleheads, roguish lads, and ‘metrosexuals’
The astute reader will probably have picked up on my occasional references to this movie’s biggest flaw; it is tremendously predictable and all the characters, bar none, are cliches. Very well-acted and charmingly written cliches, but cliches nevertheless. We have a handsome tousled young photographer, a tart with a heart of gold, an impish laddy with hidden talent, four salt-of-the-earth comedy drunks, an evil yuppie publisher, an ex-cop with a drinking problem, a wise old bird who remembers the ‘good old days,’ a kiosk lady with a waspish tongue, assorted brainless hard nuts with shaved heads and shell suits, a comedy gay, and even a gaggle of Japanese tourists who point and take snapshots of everything in sight (soooo 80s)… the list goes on. On the up side, the story is genuinely engaging and the sense of place is compelling, if a little rose-tinted. Sonia Bohosiewicz’s performance as Hanka is tremendous, and not just because she gets her top off. Grzegorz Palkowski as Grzes is good and natural in the way that many ‘untrained’ child actors are good and natural and the supporting cast (mostly minor league TV character actors or unknowns) play their off-the-peg parts with verve and good humour. There’s a lot of good humour in the movie all round, mostly of the ‘poor people are funny and earthy’ variety. As a non-Pole a lot of it went over my head in a cultural sense but the small cinema audience I saw it with seemed to be lapping it up.
Final verdict: See it, you’ll like it, but don’t cancel anything important to do so.