Kinoteka Polish Film Festival: Eastern Review
A young man runs through the woods, but he is outwitted by Klara Kowalska (Paulina Krzyżańska), who shoots him dead. For longer than anyone can remember, the Nowak and Kowalski families have been engaged in a vendetta, and attempts on one side or the other to buy themselves out have failed as the price is too high. As the victim was her brother, Ewa Nowak (Maja Pankiewicz) is assigned to avenge him, which means killing Klara by any means necessary.
Written by Piotr Adamski and Michał Grochowiak and directed by the former, a feature debut for them both, Eastern is, as the title hints, a latter-day Western. The film is spare almost to the point of abstraction, and that’s not just in running time, which stands at 74 minutes. Characters are barely more than ciphers, much in the way of humanity has been drained out of them. When the two families meet, they have no difficulty in behaving in a civil manner, with lawyers present discussing the fine details of their interactions, even though at some future point one member of one family will kill one member of the other in cold blood. A long-established pattern, one generated by the law in both families, has played itself out for generations, but how can it be brought to an end? The film doesn’t labour the point that it’s pitting a younger generation of two young women versus an explicitly patriarchal law.
Ewa soon realises that it won’t end with her even if she does go ahead with killing Klara, as then a Kowalski will kill her in turn. Instead, Ewa tries to turn Klara around, with their common goal being to bring this senseless feud to an end. But tradition is against them and tradition carries a considerable weight. There are also hints that similar patterns play out elsewhere in this society and are an intrinsic part of this world which otherwise could be our own.
Eastern's craft is impressive, but it’s a cold craft, depicting a world that’s all but hermetically sealed from outside. It certainly doesn’t propose any easy solutions, that’s for sure. But it may be that this is a film you admire rather than love.