The Girl from the Wardrobe is an unconventional and involving story of friendship set against the drab surroundings of a Warsaw council estate.
From its imaginative opening scene, introducing the main protagonist staring at a low-flying Zeppelin passing over grey suburbs, to the powerful and unexpected ending, the film gradually draws the viewer into a world where witty fantasy and harsh reality mix.
This private world is that of two brothers, Tomek (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) and Jacek (Piotr Głowacki) who live together in a small tower block apartment. Tomek has a neurological disease and needs Jacek’s constant care. Despite all the communication barriers, frustrations and outbursts of violence, they remain each other’s only friend and family. Jacek’s role as full-time carer is one that he understandably struggles with, for Tomek often gets in the way of his womanizing and career aspirations as a web designer. However, they have built a life together, hidden away from the dull, unhelpful concrete world outside – a shared existence, we gradually realise, that Jacek depends on as much as his brother depends on his care.
Into this very personal world comes their neighbour Magda (Magdalena Rozycka), a suicidal recluse from society, who seeks solace in vivid Technicolour visions while smoking weed inside her wardrobe. After an encounter where Magda agrees to take care of Tomek, a deep friendship slowly builds. Tomek and Madga increasingly spend time together, happy to sit in meditative silence and, remarkably, manage to find love, mutual understanding and a deeper connection than anything Tomek has previously been able to achieve.
This sober storyline is lightened by the many witty and clever moments of fantasy that intersperse the concrete city, providing a much needed release for the protagonists and making the harsh world they live in more entertaining for the audience. These scenes include Tomek seeing incredible giant Zeppelins flying over at every opportunity, Magda sitting in an Avatar-like forest in her living room and even the ‘sane’ Jacek watching fish swimming past his car window when getting stoned in his car.
The film, set largely on the poor concrete estate where the protagonists live becomes as it progresses slightly claustrophobic. The scenes in the brothers’ apartment, filmed with an almost immobile camera, add to the feeling of entrapment in a situation almost impossible to change. Yet The Girl from the Wardrobe steers away from social critique, never seeming to make judgements about the world it portrays. Instead, its observational tragi-comic tone reveals a surprising warmth between characters, whilst dealing sensitively with the difficult subject matter. In one five-minute static single take in their cramped kitchen, we see the brothers, hitherto unable to communicate and often – in the fantasy scenes – in different mental worlds, finally able to speak to each other, with considerable dramatic effect.
The three main roles are all well played, but the standout performance comes from Mecwaldowski as disabled Tomek, an honest portrayal that avoids the pitfalls of victimization or overt sentimentality.
Despite some rough edges and a pace that is sometimes inconsistent, The Girl from the Wardrobe is definitely worth seeing.
The Girl from the Wardrobe is part of the Kinoteka festival. Please see Cultural Diary for details.