SLAMDANCE 2021 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! How come it is that when seeking to indulge their more artistic inclinations, some filmmakers often come up with products that are intended to be brooding but instead end up sluggish and boring? 2005’s Dark Water comes to mind. I understand that films taking their aesthetic cues from a moody thriller sensibility must adhere to certain stylistic conventions: somber, enigmatic, and smoky among them. But does this mean that all movies originating from this creative springboard must also be glacially paced and force a standoff with the audience to see who will fall asleep first, the characters or the viewer?
With this in mind, we have the Polish thriller, Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! Written and directed by Agnieszka Polska, the dramatic thriller involves the secretive dealings of a tight-knit group of actors working on a film about murdered Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. The actors live and work together in a communal set-up, which makes it nice in terms of storytelling for keeping the character count to a minimum.
The crux of the story concerns the group’s search for their unaccounted-for and elusive director, as well as a missing cache of money that the group has been keeping safe as a favor to a revolutionary political faction called the Movement. While the movie does tie up its narrative loose ends at the end, I suppose, Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! ultimately raises more questions than it answers.
“…the group’s search for their unaccounted for and elusive director…”
In a documentary examining a political or social quandary, a denouement such as this would be appropriate, even welcomed. However, in a thriller, this sort of conclusion comes across as puzzling and frustrating for the viewer seeking a satisfactory close to the story. For example, I think I detected a subplot somewhere involving a clandestine affair between Dirk (Piotr Polak), one of the actors, and the director. This might have proved an interesting plot thread for Polska to address, suggesting a possible motivation behind the director’s disappearance. But it goes nowhere. Also, there seems to be the suggestion of a past love affair between lead actress Rita (Sonia Roszczuk) and Rosa (Joanna Drozda), a former friend of the group who is now part of the Movement. Again, this angle is mentioned and subsequently dropped.
The motion picture would like us to think it is making some sort of subversive statement on domestic terrorism. Yet like most of the other ideas here, this avenue is left incomplete. In the end, it winds up as a moderately twisty thriller that harbors aspirations much larger than the actual finished product. At a scant 86 minutes, Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! could have benefitted from a profoundly longer runtime in which to flesh out its ideas more thoroughly.
The film looks terrific, however, telegraphing its moodiness through lots of cigarette smoke and nifty lighting. While all of the actors turn in solid performances, particularly Polak as the conflicted Dirk and Drozda as the rebellious Rosa, much of their dialogue is spoken in hushed, monotone voices. While atmospheric, this speaking style can’t help but contribute to the movie’s overall sleepy effect.
Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! exhibits the scaffolding and the look of an intriguing political thriller. Despite subtle performances that emphasize the shifty goings-on, a fatally slow pace and underdeveloped narrative sabotage the film. Instead of the exhilarated contentedness of having been entertained by a truly satisfying thriller, you’ll rather find yourself saying, “Hurrah, we are still awake!”
Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.