Cannes 2018 – Arthouse Roundup: “Fugue”

“Fugue”  – originally titled “Fuga” in Polish – is a psychological thriller cum drama about a woman (portrayed by screenwriter/actress Gabriela Muskala) who, after disappearing for two years, returns to her family. She has no memory of herself, her family, or even how she spent those missing years.  The film opens with a long tracking shot from behind, following an unknown woman as she stumbles in heels and a trench coat through a forest and then onto subway train tracks.  The commuters ignore her as she climbs upon the platform, walking as if in a trance.  She hikes her skirt, rolls down her underwear, and drops a squat as she pisses through a grate on the platform.  In this initial scene, the lone continuous shot presents the metaphor for the entire film and the very definition of a psychological “fugue” –

Fugue, noun  – A disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect the acts performed [Def. 2, Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2018)

Now calling herself Alicja, she is identified as Kinga by her father on television after being apprehended by the police.  With no memories of her husband, son, or anything linking her to her past life, she is forced into a life that she does not want.  She sleeps on the couch, cuts and dyes her hair, and dresses like a teenager.  Her young son, unable to process the distance between her mother, acts out by placing  tacks where she sleeps and re-arranging the post-it notes on items in their home to confuse her recovery.  The one time she is alone with her son on the beach, she works herself into a panic as she loses him. As much as she tries, Alicja cannot build an emotional connection with the man who should be her husband, or properly attend to her son.

The direction by Agnieszka Smoczynska and performances in the film reflect a melancholy and uncertainty prevalent in Polish films going back to Krystof Kieslowski and Andrjez Wajda.  Muted colors and gray landscapes reveal the haze of Kinga’s mind as she tries to reconnect with a family that, for all intents and purposes, made peace with her disappearance. As the film reaches the third act, the reveal of the cause of Kinga’s memory loss is a jarring, violent moment that challenges the ideas of feminine roles in motherhood, marriage, and personal identity.

The sound design of the film conveys the discomfort and dissonance felt by Kinga as she struggles to feign romantic and sexual interest in a husband who is suspiciously distant and cold.  One of the key scenes to portray this feeling is a dance scene in a small club. As other couples dance together to hazy, electronic protopunk music, Kinga and her husband dance apart, miming movements and touches of another. Even when they finally reach a point of intimacy, it feels as Kinga is merely giving in to a role that makes everyone but her comfortable.

Highly recommended for fans of amnesic films such as “Memento,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and “Dark City”.  While the film does not yet have a North American distributor, look for it in your local Fall/Winter 2018-2019 film festivals and arthouse cinemas.  The subtle, yet complex performances, muted cinematography, and nuanced script should make this film a shoe-in as Poland’s entry into the “Best Foreign Film” category for the 2019 Academy Awards.

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  • Jon-Carlos Evans is a Berlin based filmmaker, audiovisual artist and writer. He holds a B.A. in Film Production from Webster University-St.Louis and a MFA in Media Arts Production from the City College of New York. Under his musical alias Klaas von Karlos, Evans is also is the founder of experimental-electronic collective ReVerse Bullets and creative director of the GLITCH performance series/music label. As Klaas von Karlos, he is also a member of music projects BIINDS, Naked Sweatshop, and Divan Rouge

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