Polish Cinema: 33 Scenes of Life (Malgorzata Szumowska, 2008, Germany/Poland)

33 Scenes from Life is the third feature from director Malgorzata Szumoska, released in 2008. Szumowska has emerged in recent years as one of the most popular Polish directors on the arthouse circuit outside of her native country.  While 33 Scenes features Polish actors, including the reliably great Maciej Stuhr, the film is perhaps most notable for featuring two non-Poles in the leading roles - German actress Julia Jentsch (Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, The Edukators) as protagonist Julia Szczesna, and Danish actor Peter Gantzler (Italian for Beginners) as her love interest Adrian. These casting choices reflect a broader intention from Szumowska to appeal to a wider European audience. One of the two IMDb reviews comes from a German reviewer, who writes that he watched the film in a German-dubbed version.
While 33 Scenes fits squarely into the “misery porn” genre of East European cinema, it is distinguished from other films in this genre, such as Plac Zbawiciela, by focusing on an intellectual and artistic family, rather than a working-class family. Our protagonist Julia makes a living as an artist, while her husband Piotr (Stuhr) is a composer. Her father Jurek is a documentary filmmaker, and her mother Basia - whose battle with cancer forms the primary narrative thrust of the film - is a writer. As Julia copes with the stress of her mother’s cancer battle, and Piotr is away in Cologne rehearsing for a performance, she begins to fall in love with fellow artist and friend Adrian.

33 Scenes becomes rather tiresome as the misfortunes mount. The proceedings are pure kitchen sink, although Szumowska does add a bit of stylistic flare by bookending scenes with a black screen and an orchestra, giving the film a musical quality. 33 Scenes broadness and lack of cultural specificity is perhaps its biggest detriment.

6/10

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