Tricks (Sztuczki) Review

In a small out-of-the way mining town in Poland, near Wrocław, young Stefek (Damien Ul) lives with his mother and his teenaged sister Elka (Ewelina Walendziak). As their father walked out when Stefek was a baby, and their mother (Iwona Fornalczyk) works all day in a grocer's shop, Elka is effectively both parents to Stefek as well as a sibling. Elka has a job washing dishes at a restaurant and is learning Italian in the hope of being employed by an Italian businessman. For much of the time, Stefek is left to his own devices, playing near the railway tracks, getting lifts on Elka's boyfriend Jerzy's (Rafal Guzniczak) motorcycle and watching the adults around town. Then one day he sees a man (Tomasz Sapryk) waiting for a train and is convinced that he is his father and sets about trying to “trick” fate into reuniting his parents.

Poland's entry for the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, Tricks is only the second feature by Andrzej Jakimowski, after Squint Your Eyes (Zmruz oczy) in 2002. It certainly feels like the work of a more experienced director. Tricks doesn't belabour the fact that this is far from the most affluent place: through Stefek's eyes we glimpse used-car deals and amateur prostitution going on. But the film's charm lies in that we see this world through Stefek's wide-open eyes, so that we willingly suspend disbelief that fate can be influenced in this manner. Elka believes that the universe will align itself for us. She does not believe that the man at the station is really their father, as all Stefek has to go on is a badly defaced photo. On the other hand, Stefek is convinced that you have to take direct action, and tests his theory in small ways before setting out to win his father back.

Neither Damien Ul nor Ewelina Walendziak had acted before, but they both give remarkably natural performances and more than hold their own against the rest of the professional actors in the cast. Adam Bajerski's golden-hued camerawork and Tomasz Gassowski's jazz-tinged score add to the film's considerable beguiling charm. It's a subtle film, with things that can pass you by on a first viewing, but it rewards subsequent ones: this review is based on two. You suspect there's more than a little autobiography in this film, as it begins with the dedication: “To my sister, who would make me sit on top of the wardrobe”.


Tricks is released by New Wave Films on a single-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.

The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. It's a fine transfer, faithful to the golden-dominated colour scheme of the film, solid and with excellent shadow detail.

According to the end credits, Tricks was released with a Dolby Digital soundtrack in cinemas, so it's disappointing that the DVD has only a 2.0 (analogue Dolby Surround) mix. That said, it's hardly the most adventurous soundtrack, with the surrounds mainly given over to the music score.

Optional English subtitles are available. Polish speakers should note that the alternative is no subtitles at all, which means that the few exchanges in Italian go untranslated - which is not the case when the English subtitles are turned on.

The only extra is the trailer, which is anamorphically enhanced and runs 1:39.

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