Plac Zabaw (Playground)London Film Festival 2016
It can be difficult to be shocked by the violence in films these days. Outlandish, even amusing levels of violence are commonplace, and at most you might be mildly impressed that the special effects team managed to make that guy’s head explode so convincingly. This is why the shocks provided by the violence in Bartosz M Kowalski’s debut feature feels like a punch to the stomach.
The setup is effectively (and deceptively) straightforward, simply detailing the last day of school for the year for three young people making their way through adolescence. The days seem bright and warm, and the meandering nature of the narrative is tightly controlled through the episodic nature of the story. Plac Zabaw (Playground) is literally broken up into chapters.
The three young leads (Michalina Swistun, Nicolas Przygoda and Przemyslaw Balinski) are unnerving in their roles, and it would be easy for some scenes to be overplayed. This is crucially not the case, which adds to the overall wallop of the film.
Instances of violence are not overtly foreshadowed, but despite the brightness of the frame, it’s easy to get the sense that something nasty is on the horizon. Kowalski frames his actors with a central master shot and barely deviates from this with cutaways or reaction shots. This approach is basic and yet masterful, allowing the camera to watch from a distance during the brutal final moments. These scenes are hard enough to watch as it is, so the lack of precise details is entirely welcome.
Yes, this film is difficult to sit through, particularly if you recall the tragedy of James Bulger in 1993. The cold brilliance of Plac Zabaw (Playground) will stay with you, even as you scuttle from the cinema in search of a large drink, while keeping a wary eye on any young people whose boredom seems ominous.
Plac Zabaw (Playground) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Plac Zabaw (Playground) here: