SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The Halny wind descends upon the Polish town Zakopane and its surrounding mountains every fall and spring. Unpredictable and all-encompassing, it can morph into a savage gale. Its destructive effects, however, aren’t just physical. Much like a demon, it penetrates the very souls of Zakopane’s inhabitants, leading to depression, heart strokes, panic attacks and suicide attempts.
Filmmaker Michal Bielawski masterfully captures the dreadful anticipation of Halny – the calm before the storm – as well as its harrowing effects in The Wind. A Documentary Thriller. Both immersive and spare, the film doesn’t resort to unnecessary embellishments, allowing us to truly experience its icy magnificence; like the wind it depicts, the movie descends upon us and leaves us perturbed, awe-struck with its beauty.
There’s no plot to speak of. Bielawski defies conventional documentary structure: there are no interviews, next to no archival footage, no narration. We simply follow several of Zakopane’s residents – an aging man with his offspring, a tree-hugger, an ambulance worker – as they survive the claustrophobia and the fierce, penetrating wind. This creates the powerful effect of eavesdropping on those people, The Wind’s vérité style complementing its (non) narrative. In an era where filmmakers feel the need to force our attention via gimmicks, it’s refreshing to have one trust his images to tell a story more powerful than words could.
“…creates the powerful effect of eavesdropping on those people, The Wind’s vérité style complementing its (non) narrative.”
The Wind certainly contains some stunning imagery. A wild vortex of trees collapses and tumbles through the air. Bodies are seen carried out of demolished houses. A man calls in his suicide. There are incredible aerial shots of Halney swallowing Zakopane, as well as the ravaged land it leaves behind in its wake.
The quietly-observed, perseverant citizens cast just as big of an impression. A farmer assists a cow in giving birth to a male calf. A pair of young girls watch a chicken’s head being sliced off. A woman is in love with the forest; unwilling to part with it, she writes poetic odes to it and caresses its trees; she faces the wind, unafraid. The last 10 minutes especially capture the power of Halny, as ambulances and fire trucks struggle to keep up with the repercussions. Lukas Kobela’s majestic score, signifying both dread and hope amid all this doom n’ gloom, serves the (non) narrative well.
It’s a bit of a far stretch to call The Wind a “documentary thriller.” It’s more of a minimalist, observational, meditative experience, whose chill seeps into your bones. It reinforces the power and unpredictability of Mother Nature. Do yourself a favor: disconnect for 70 minutes and let The Wind carry you away.
The Wind. A Documentary Thriller screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.