The fuming suburban landscape of Moście district in Poland becomes the scenery for the third film from Polish directors, Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal, Parasite (Huba, 2013). Premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last year, Parasite is now one of the films included in the Play Poland Film Festival in London. Their two previous films, the prize-winning It Looks Pretty from a Distance (2011), and Alexander (2013), both explored frustration with the mundanity of rural life, and their latest film continues this theme.
The opening scene takes the viewer into the interior of a typical industrial factory, built during the Soviet era and unmodernized since. An anonymous machine-worker (Jerzy Gajikowski), trained as a mechanical engineer, has just taken retirement from his physically and emotionally exhausting job. He lives with a young woman (Joanna Drozda) and her newborn son in a small flat on a concrete estate. The daily life of this family, portrayed by non-professional actors with ‘kitchen sink’ realism, uncovers the silent horror of their existence, where interest in each other and in life itself is almost non-existent.
Left without his habitual working duties, the old man starts to live a life of pointless scab-picking at home. Tortured by a creeping insomnia, he dreams of returning to the factory and remains unbothered by a series of medical check-ups. His physical depletion upon retirement suggests that, mundane and debilitating though his work was, it was a crucial outlet that offered life meaning. Another character in the film, the young woman burdened by parenthood, faces the same problem of existential emptiness. Uninspired by her son’s presence, she carries out her daily duties – cooking, breastfeeding, taking the child for a walk or to the doctor – quite apathetically, and dreams of escaping this repressive, repetitive life.
Showing these two different attitudes towards the problem of existence – defeat and helpless anger – the Sasnals give a scathing picture of life in places off the map, but the vision is not linked to government or society. The rural setting is important: effectively another character, it gives a feeling of frozen time, as developments in architecture, technology and fashion pass it by.
The same sense of disconnect exists in the relationship between the protagonists. Throughout the entire film, they never communicate and rarely interact with each other, the only real conversation being the mother’s with a nurse, where she learns her child is underweight. The soundtrack of Parasite, shorn of dialogue, consists mainly of the hum of the city, and the sound of deep breathing, almost as if heard though a stethoscope, serving as a reminder that the heroes, while trapped in their sleepy existences, somehow remain alive.
The style of this film is fragmentary and even dislocated, sometimes giving it an impenetrable feel. The viewer never learns the background of the story, and the characters’ mumbling speech adds little sense to the plot. Yet this unique style allows Parasite to remain objective and, paradoxically, strikingly realistic – you simply watch events unfold, and are left guessing about the connection between these tatters, and whether one even exists.
Perhaps the clue lies in the title: for everyone, in this film, is feeding off someone or something else. It’s an animal world, in which dependency is threatening, and where the constant consumption of food begins to seem less a ritual of enjoyment than mechanical act, simply a means to further one’s existence: the characters will go on breathing, go on surviving, but to what end? What ‘Parasite’ finally adds up to is a powerful, but relentless, tale of spiritual poverty.
Wilhelm and Anca Sasnal’s Parasite was part of the Play Poland Film Festival, London 2014.