My Friend the Polish Girl, 2018.
Directed by Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek.
Starring Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Friedman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Max Davis and Darren Ross.
A documentary filmmaker becomes involved in the life of a Polish immigrant to the UK, as she attempts to pursue an acting career.
My Friend the Polish Girl is an incredibly interesting film on a number of levels. The debut feature from writing and directing duo Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek, it is presented in the form of a documentary helmed by central character Katie (Emma Friedman-Cohen) as she follows Polish immigrant Alicja (Aneta Piotrowska) through her turbulent and fragile London existence.
Katie’s documentary begins as a portrait of a woman struggling with her partner’s cancer diagnosis, but it soon becomes clear that Alicja has lied about the extent of his illness, and so she’s left with “a mundane portrait of a normal couple” rather than a dramatic tale of disease and loss. When Alicja promises she’ll “do anything you want me to” and a slightly sleazy director lines her up for a role in a gangster film, Katie spots chances to inject some excitement into her “truthful, not fake” story.
There are a number of really compelling ideas at play throughout My Friend the Polish Girl. The film pays lip service to the notion of documentary authenticity, the immigrant experience in modern Britain, the ethics of filmmaking and, in its most under-explored thread, the impact of the Brexit vote. The problem is that lip service is all these themes get, with the directors largely unable to get deep into the heart of the myriad ideas that flash across the script like flickers of blinding light.
Despite the rather surface level evocation of its themes, the film is kept afloat by its two stellar central performances. Piotrowska is beguiling and unusual as the titular polish girl, who oscillates between absolute confidence and shocking naivete as the story progresses. Friedman-Cohen, meanwhile, is slyly and subtly manipulative – largely from behind the camera, aside from occasional glimpses – as a woman battling between her developing, shifting bond for her subject and her desire to produce something compelling.
The visual style, too, is impressive. The boxy Academy ratio and black and white cinematography provides an old school documentary feel, while occasional flashes of colour portray the fracturing reality of the storytelling and cartoon interludes flirt with symbolism that, again, could be interesting if it were more fleshed out. All of the constituent parts of something special are present and correct here, but they don’t ever gel together in the way the film wants and needs.
While it doesn’t always work perfectly, My Friend the Polish Girl is an interesting cinematic experiment with plenty to say about the filmmaking process. It’s just occasionally unwilling to come out and say it. Banaszkiewicz and Dymek’s script often wanders around listlessly in amongst its own stylistic flourishes as if hoping, like its central character, that something interesting will happen in front of the camera. Often, it does – a third act twist of the knife is very well done – but this is, overall, a lot less than the sum of its admirable parts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.