Kinoteka Polish Film Festival: Monument Review
Monument (2018) | Dir. Jagoda Szelc | Cast: Anna Biernacik, Karolina Bruchnicka, Paulina Lasota, Zuzanna Pawlak | Writer: Jagoda Szelc (screenplay)
A group of twenty students, ten boys and ten girls, are on an overnight coach taking them to a resort hotel, where they are to work internships. Under the command of the stern hotel manager (Dorota Łukasiewicz-Kwietniewska), they are put to work: to wash clothes, clean crockery and cutlery, change beds, take out rubbish, and make preparations of the monument of the title, a stone cube on the pedestal in the nearby woods. One girl acts as carer to a resident, an obese woman who is seemingly catatonic. None of the students are treated as individuals: the girls all have name badges saying Ania, the boys Paweł. (This extends to the cast, who are simply listed as “artists” in the end credits, with no character names.) Over time, friendships form and bonds are made, and some enter into sexual relationships with each other.
Monument is director Jagoda Szelc’s second feature: her first was Tower. A Bright Day, in 2017, following shorts and documentaries. The film was developed by Szelc with acting students at the Łódź Film Academy as their honour project. Szelc has said that Monument is not so much a story but a ritual, and that’s the key to this experimental work. It has been described as a horror film, but if it is, it’s one in the sense of reality askew, at first subtly, then more overtly, rather than supernatural happenings and scares in the conventional genre sense. The ritual the director refers to comes to the fore at the film’s climax. There is a twist ending, which I won’t reveal of course. It’s set up a few minutes into the film, though not so you would notice on an unspoilered first viewing.
At 108 minutes, Monument does take its time, but along the way, the performances by the cast certainly impress, as is the use of screen space (shot in Scope by Przemysław Brynkiewicz, who had previously been the cinematographer of Tower. A Bright Day) and sound design. Monument certainly won’t be for all tastes, to say the least, with its measured pace and lack of conventional narrative beats, but taken on its own terms it does stick in the memory.
Monument won the Special Jury Prize at the 2018 Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.