Review: Papirosen

Student Critic Jury member Genevieve Bicknell reviews Papirosen at EIFF 2012

Seated side by side on a chairlift, a man and a boy jolt up a mountain. We follow, one chair behind. The cogs grate. The cables groan. Out of nowhere, the voice of an old woman begins the story of how she made her escape from the Nazis. She is speaking in Spanish.

Within the first few minutes, director Gaston Solnicki shows us that this is a film about connection and disconnection: not simply between the Spanish words and the Central European story, or the pain of this tale and the frippery of the ski resort, but most of all between the man and the boy sitting next to each other on the chair lift.

As the film cuts to scenes of family life, shot over many years on everything from Super 8 film to high definition video, it becomes clear that it is a sense of connection and disconnection within the director’s own family that we are exploring. Through the voice of the old woman, his grandmother, we piece together a story: he is Argentinian; the child of a father born in Poland who entered Argentina as an illegal immigrant along with his own mother and father, who had just lost most or all of their families. While learning this, we watch his family. We see their love for each other in a grandmother’s smoothing of her granddaughter’s hair, in the phone message left by a son for his father, but we also see the tensions that underpin their lives: The arguments between his father and mother, the melancholia of his sister and the coolness of his brother, who, expressionless, tells the family he wishes to be more distant. As stories unfold and memories surface, connections between past and present become more visible, and the disconnection that this leads to becomes more striking.

So used to Solnicki’s camera, his family glide past without a glance, as if Solnicki himself is not there. This lack of engagement mirrors our own experience of his family. We watch them express anger, resentment, sadness and joy, yet do not experience these emotions with them, for we never know them intimately. We simply eavesdrop on moments of their lives.

The final scene returns to the ski slope, but this time we are beside the man and the boy, still grinding their way up the mountain. We have witnessed so much of their lives, we now better understand them both. Yet there remains an emotional detachment. Ultimately, the greatest sense of disconnection in Papirosen could be our own. But perhaps this is exactly what Solnicki intended, for he soon returns to his earlier viewpoint; the seat behind.

Genevieve Bicknell


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