Life Must Go On (Żyć nie umierać) (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review
Bartosz (Bartek) Kolano (Tomasz Kot) is a successful actor and presenter in his mid-forties. But behind the scenes is a trail of damage: his alcoholism destroyed his marriage and estranged him from his daughter, though he is now in a recovery programme. But when a routine medical checkup reveals he has incurable cancer, he decides to put his life in order...
Although Life Must Go On (Żyć nie umierać) is fiction, it's inspired by a real person, the actor Tadeusz Szymków, who died in 2009 at the age of fifty, as a caption just before the the final credits tells us. Given the subject matter, writer Cezary Harasimowicz and director Maciej Migas play the opening scenes of Life Must Go On (and there's a determinedly upbeat title to put on the poster) as energetic to a fault, often broadly comic. They're helped in this by having a very charismatic lead actor, fresh from his award-winning role as another (real) larger-than-life personality, pioneering heart surgeon Zbigniew Religa in Bogowie (Gods). The mood settles down once Bartek receives his diagnosis and begins treatment and we move from not going gently into that good night to settling accounts when time is short. He reconnects with his ex-wife, now remarried with a daughter, and his own daughter Monika (Paulina Gałązka). There's a recognition that damage cannot be undone, but the effort is there. Tonally, the film doesn't quite manage the shift from comedy to sobering drama and ends somewhere in between, with a somewhat uneasy closing gag. But it's all really about the lead performance, and after this and Bogowie you have to wonder if filmmakers outside Poland are paying attention.
Life Must Go On shows on 9 April at 8.20pm at the Regent Street Cinema, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. Further UK showings and distribution are to be confirmed.