Ziarno Prawdy (A Grain of Truth) is the latest release from celebrated Polish director Borys Lankosz, coming in the form of a gut-wrenching thriller based on the Zygmunt Miloszewski novel of the same name.
Stylishly produced and accessible, Lankosz’s film nevertheless stays faithful to the edgy artistic principles which made him such a contender for Best Foreign Language Oscar back in 2010 – and the result is spectacular. Throughout, an insidious layer of menace hangs over the film, which appears heavily influenced by the “Nordic-noir” genre, with echoes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, and The Bridge all resonating stylistically, and in tone.
The film’s very much a product of its genre, and the premise on which it unfolds may sound a little hackneyed. Razor sharp, enigmatic, and largely likeable Teodor Szacki, a recently divorced public prosecutor (Robert Więckiewicz of Walesa fame), has left the bright lights of Warsaw for a posting in the sleepy provincial town of Sandomierz – but soon finds himself grappling with a string of grisly homicides.
So far, so familiar. Yet any sense of predictability swiftly evaporates as it becomes apparent that, one by one, the victims are succumbing to a particularly sinister form of murder – one involving kosher butchers’ tools. The investigation gradually draws Szacki deeper and deeper into a labyrinthine nightmare of superstition, religion and bible code in which various elements of Poland’s history intertwine – allowing Lankosz to examine the scars left on society by anti-semitism, nationalism, Nazism, and Communism. Eventually, Szacki literally descends below the earth’s surface into a series of dark 1940s-era tunnels in a race against time to save a victim’s life, and the introduction of these darker historical and religious motifs means the film takes on a new dimension just as reminiscent of Umberto Eco as it is of Steig Larsson.
The title of the film is, one senses, a reference to persistent ideas that some element of fact lies in hysterical, mediaeval superstitions about Jewish ritualistic blood sacrifices. But in a clear attempt to refute such thinking, the plot twists dramatically when Szacki’s forced to remove this ‘grain of truth’ from his thinking. The foundations of religious and historical assumption he’s been working on come tottering down, and he’s left with the simple truth: one which has, the whole time, been staring him in the face.
Macabre, intelligent, and self-conscious, Ziano Prawdy is undoubtedly a classy and hard-hitting film. The way Lankosz has taken a popular yet well-worn blueprint – and ripped it up before reassembling it into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a crime thriller – reaffirms the director’s growing stature in Polish cinema. He’s to be praised for the whole enterprise, and one suspects many viewers will want to get their hands on a copy of the original novel behind this uniquely Polish take on the Neo-noir phenomenon.
Borys Lankosz’s A Grain of Truth (2015) screens on November 28th (18.30) at the Clapham Picturehouse, as part of the PLAY POLAND Film Festival, 2015.