Review: Bread and Salt – Cineuropa

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– VENICE 2022: In his brilliant debut feature, Damian Kocur inspects violence and legendary Polish hospitality, but takes it with a huge pinch of salt

Jacek Bies and Tymoteusz Bies in bread and salt

In his native Poland, Damien Kocur was one of the promising directors to watch. His short films, brilliant in their raw style and radical conception of what constitutes reality on screen, have won him numerous awards. His first feature film, bread and salt [+see also:
trailer
interview: Damian Kocur
film profile
]
acclaimed at the recent Venice Film Festival (where he won the special jury prize in the Orizzonti section – see the news), further proves Kocur’s unique talent and the clarity of his cinematic voice.

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The story follows the man in his twenties Tymek (Timoteusz Bies), who returns to his hometown for summer vacation. He is a talented, hardworking and ambitious pianist, but on the other hand, he is more like a slacker whose only talent would be to waste his life. Misconceptions and cognitive errors are strong themes in Kocur’s film, which revolves around some of the early work of Gus Van Sant as well as Larry Clark, without nudity. The director conjures up an on-screen world that feels hyper-real, working with non-professional actors, whom he seamlessly directs.

Tymek has a younger brother (Jacek Bies, his real-life brother), who also plays the piano but shows less dedication to his calling. Tymek tries to push him harder so Jacek can leave their hometown as well. But Jacek feels good where he is, hanging out with his friends and his girlfriend in a kebab bar run by two Arab immigrants. The story follows the relationship between the brothers, and between the Poles and the Arabs – while Tymek, who is generally open-minded, tries to get to know the kebab-shop employee Yousef, the other guys laugh at him and start abusing him too. The tension builds slowly, much like the temperature of the proverbial boiling frog, and when things get really hot, it’s too late to do anything about it.

What is striking in bread and salt – a saying in Polish and, it turns out, in Arabic as well – is how the director captures the audience’s attention. Its camera follows the protagonists or is fixed, observing the situation they find themselves in, the movement and stillness creating an atmosphere of psychological claustrophobia and an impending panic attack – there is still air to breathe, but it will soon disappear. It’s a feature film that aims to be documentary, and it’s a relevant artistic choice, since the film also inspects what is real and what is fiction: a story that people tell themselves to understand the world. In this respect, Kocur’s film recalls the works of Michael Haneke, in particular funny games, and not because of the eruption of violence at the end of the film, but rather because of the reminder that it’s so easy to fool people’s eyes and perception. Pianists can sound like rappers, a hospitable nation can be xenophobic, and a seemingly simple movie about a young man can be a philosophical work. Kocur is a brilliant talent to watch – a line you, the reader, should take without a pinch of salt.

bread and salt was produced by Munk Studio of Poland. IKH Pictures Promotion owns worldwide distribution rights.

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