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By Elias Savada | June 19, 2014

Poland has five short films in this year’s AFI DOCS program, second only to the 12 from the United States. One of those, in the “Shorts Program: Odds and Ends,” is Damian Kocur’s strangely whimsical “21 Days [21 Dni],” about Michal, a shy man with a mouthful of dental braces and a crease down the middle of his forehead, and his very unusual plan to find love in a sea of desperation.

I was wondering to myself, over the first few minutes of this film, is this really a documentary? There’s just something a tad stagey about it. Like watching an episode of “Candid Camera.” The film first focuses on our ‘hero,’ a bashful Warsaw bus driver sitting behind the wheel, then flits about to show pretty young women passengers, apparently okay with a camera focusing on them. Moments later, he’s one of several participants in a self-help program about ‘Perfect Dating’ techniques, including the eponymous 3-week plan in the art of meeting women that an instructor is offering to a room of sheepish students.

Day 1: Ask 50 women for the time.

He fails. And chokes (figuratively and literally, when he approaches a women smoking a cigarette). Confidence, my eye.

Comic situations ensue as various assignments (i.e., conversation starters) frustrate him. He breaks through the ice, but for the women-fish he’s casting after, I suspect they’re looking back at him as someone who’s not that great a catch. It’s all a little unnerving to see him strain so hard.

As Day 21 arrives, Michal has a new look (haircut, jacket) and is, indeed, more adept at engaging the female sex, at lease in casual, although stunted, conversation. This approach is still too bold for my old-age, married-for-37-years sensibilities, I guess.

Studio Munka specializes in producing directorial debut films, so I congratulate Damian Kocur for a nice, first-out-of-the-gate experience.

So, nightmare or fairy tale ending? You gotta pay for that.

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