The Last Family
At 32, Polish director Jan P Matuszynski is quite the prodigy. The Last Family is his first narrative feature and the real life subjects he has chosen make for a fascinating picture.
The titular “last family” are the Beksińkis: famed painter Zdzisław (Andrzej Seweryn), his wife Zosia (Aleksandra Konieczna) and their son, film translator and radio DJ, Tomasz (Dawid Ogrodnik). They live at the top of a run-down Polish apartment building with their two grandmothers. The movie follows them over 30 years, through successes and failures, suicide attempts and a succession of natural deaths, as they try to do their best for each other despite some truly adverse circumstances.
This is a commendably honest portrait of the difficulties of family life. There’s a deep, un-showy love between Zdzislaw and Zosia (beautifully played by Seweryn and Konieczna). When it comes to Tomasz, their manic-depressive adult son, the love comes a little harder. It’s an interesting choice to make Tomasz the focus of the story, rather than Zdzislaw’s burgeoning fame, and it means the film ends up more relatable. Not everyone has a famous artist as a family member, but who isn’t related to someone they find exasperating?
Matuszynski ups the ante of the various familial stresses by adding a heavy dose of claustrophobia. The Beksińkis’s flat seems too small for five people, especially when one of them bounces off the walls as much as Tomasz. To emphasise this further, the director frames the characters tightly, through doorways and narrow corridors; this enhances the film’s emotional intensity.
As the audience watch this household over three decades, their passionate relationship with the arts is front and centre. Viewers get the sense that Zdzisław, who on the surface seems a benign, friendly chap, gets the inspiration for his macabre paintings from his difficult home life. Tomasz, on the other hand, finds a peace in art – the only times he appears serene are when he’s watching movies or listening to music.
Though all the actors are engaging and convincing, it’s Seweryn’s performance that will stay with viewers. So very quiet, always watching, never shouting; he conveys everything from amusement to devastation with just his watchful eyes and the gentle lilt of his voice, and it’s quite a magical thing to witness.
The Last Family is an undeniably sad film, but the familial love and mordant humour prevent it ever getting too depressing. A remarkable first feature.
The Last Family is released in selected cinemas on 4th November 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Last Family here: