THE LAST FAMILY is a Polish film that was released in 2016, directed by Jan P. Matuszynski and evidently, there’s an annual Polish Film Festival that takes place for a week in Los Angeles which is really awesome. I was lucky enough to catch this at the Armer Theater. I’ve mentioned this to a few people, but this film and I quote, “Bewitched me. Mind, body, and soul.” Needless to say, I don’t say this about many films, but this one hooked me good, so much so the gentleman who was sitting next to me during the screening, gently nudged my elbow asking if I was okay. I’ll get to that in a bit.
But to back up just a smidge, the history behind this very real family is depicted in a very jarring manner. Zdzislaw Beksinski was a famous Polish painter, who actually is more of an artist than anything because he dabbled in photography, videography, and was even known for sculpting. But his most peculiar nuisance was recording his family with a video camera. Much if not all of his work has a surrealist vibe, to a somewhat dysfunctional homage to apocalyptic imagery. It’s ghastly, but strangles you with curiosity. Majority of this film cultivates a 30-year period of this man’s life which includes the challenges of his family, who are all essentially on the precipice of choking each other to death in some regard. Beksinski’s son Tomsz has a vein of artistry in him, however, very tormented by his own traumatic, depressive nature which is one hefty conflict throughout the film. We go from one depressive episode to the next which is further enhanced by the overwhelming close up shots making you feel confined and unable to escape. I would say 80% of the film takes places inside a very claustrophobic apartment especially the elevator scenes. Holy hell, those are tight shots and executed in a very exquisite way. This filmmaker knows what’s he doing and how that feeling translates on screen with the actors is spellbinding especially, Andrzej Seweryn, (SCHINDLER’S LIST) who plays Zizslaw.
In the opening scene, Beksinski is being interviewed, discussing how he fantasizes about some fairly pornographic stuff detailing about having some kind of simulated sex with Alicia Silverstone. It’s sick and aggressive, making me think he’s just some dirty old man, but only to realize what has lead up to his life at that point in time, makes it a crestfallen overture of misfortune. Regardless, it’s an interesting setup. The story follows the years from 1977 to 2005 which details solely on the family’s life and not so much Beksinski’s art which kind of struck me as odd. The focus is the family and not the artist.
The film makes me question how an artist is able to be an artist and have a family he can’t really connect to. There’s an eerie disconnect. It’s troubling, very sad, yet mesmerizing because Beksinski doesn’t know how to help his son, or have a genuine loving relationship with his wife, while his mother and mother-in-law all live with him in the same small apartment. Sounds like insanity right? Well, that insanity over a 30-year period dissolves into tragedy. I forgot to mention Tomsz lives in his own apartment across from his parents’ which throughout the years, he has the constant tug-a-war with death. Always on the brink of destruction.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, this film bewitched me mind, body, and soul. My mind was fiercely curious about Beksinski’s work and how he was able to utilize a video camera to reveal and express the explosive nature of his family’s behavior. I mean sure he may have exploited them to a degree, but it’s creepily fascinating. The most significant scene is that moment where he has the camera on during the most fragile conversation you can have with your family about suicide, and the meaning of living life. It hits you like a bag of cement afterwards because when watching this I immediately that it’s an interesting way to film a conversation until suddenly the depth weighs you down to the point of exhaustion. My soul was transfixed by how this heavy feeling an artist often times get weighed down with, whether their cognizant of it or not. It’s a wave of emotions and you have to ride it out the best way you can through trial and error, through tribulations and defeat, frustration, exhilaration, and utter bliss. It’s a tranquil cycle often contrasted to a jolting moment of complete annihilation. I feel like every turning point in this film, resulted in a loved one’s death, and what stems from that is a natural progression of rebirth, inspiration, and often times moments of doubt, dreariness, and loneliness. And to reveal the same shot of the family watching the casket go into the ground, has its peculiar moments of humor but also segways into that loathsome feeling of despair. And then of course Beksinski pulls out his camera at the last second to record the casket going down into the ground. It made me cringe awkwardly, but also smile wickedly. I had a very split feeling on that scene. I want to love it, but ugh it makes me wince in awkward silence. And finally, my body was so bewitched by this screening, I wasn’t even aware of what was happening. This was pointed out to me once the credits rolled.
There was a pivotal scene with Tomasz in an airplane, again in a very confined close up which progressed into some handheld shots of the plane enduring some violent turbulence. There’s a line, prior to this harsh movement, where Tomasz says, “I talked with my astrologist yesterday and he said this plane is going to crash.” Now whether you analyze that as something that’s literally going to happen or not is entirely subjective. Personally, I saw it as if he was hinting at the fact, he was going to have another violent anxiety attack. So with my mind focused on that thought, the latter happens and my body apparently jumped during that sequence. I laughed afterwards because I was so convinced Tomasz was going to freak out. And perhaps I did miss something in the subtitles because the man sitting in front of me had a very large head, and it was difficult to toggle back and forth to read the dialogue. This sequence still intrigues me because I’m still not 100% the plane actually went down and he survived. In my mind it was all an elaborate metaphor for his spastic moments of anguish. I may never know for sure, which makes me love this movie even more.
This voyeuristic biopic of a troubled artist is dark, demented, unyielding in it’s fascination of gruesome peculiarities contrasted to the obscure nature and the wavelengths it leaves behind. Most people marvel in the brilliance of artistry often not truly realizing the ugly truth of what inspired it. With brusque moments of insanity from Tomasz to moments of warmth where I can see Zofia (Beksinski’s wife) trying to be the glue that holds the family together especially up to the point where she teaches Beksinski how to take care of himself, because she knows she won’t be around forever. And she genuinely cares for him and his well-being despite his bizarre proclivities. I really want to rematch this film a few more times, because there’s so much material here given from it’s historical context and perhaps it’ll giving me a deeper insight into what the filmmaker was trying to give his audience.
I’m going to warn you this isn’t an easy film to sit through and if you’re claustrophobic like me, it will be a challenge but well worth the torment. After watching this THE LAST FAMILY, I looked up Beksinski’s work, which is a wild trip within itself contrasting the artist’s personal life and his work, paints an even more horrific epitaph to how his life ended. There’s something incredibly bone-chilling about his story as much as it’s impressive ability to jar and shape one’s mind, but also peering deeper into Beksinski’s work has inspired many other artists and filmmakers. Guillermo Del Toro is most notably known for collecting his paintings and if you look closely you can see tiny fragments of Beksinski especially in PAN’S LABYRINTH. I’ll leave you with a eloquently written quote by Del Torro which I think essentially captures the heart of Beksinski’s work.
” In the medieval tradition, Beksinski seems to believe art to be a forewarning about the fragility of the flesh
– whatever pleasures we know are doomed to perish-
thus, his paintings manage to evoke at once the process of decay and the ongoing struggle for life. They hold within them a secret poetry, stained with blood and rust.”
And as a side note, the picture below is a Beksinski painting, which seems to heavily resemble a similar embrace in Del Toro’s latest film, THE SHAPE OF WATER as I’m sure there were other factors to his inspiration. This one caught my eye. Well, la dee da! Guess which film, my next blog post will be on? Go on, guess. 🙂