By Mark Bell | June 24, 2013

Filmmaker Marek (Wojciech Pszoniak) is on the downward trajectory of a once-promising career. Ten years beyond what many feel was his best work, Marek spends his days shooting commercials or the occasional short film. His latest project, however, reconnects him with a musician friend, the free spirit Adam (Ryszard Cieslak).

Committed to being true to his life, and his art, Adam has developed a music style unique to his vision, a kind of upright bass noise experience. As Marek takes a break from filming Adam’s latest solo performance, the two talk on the beach. Marek records their conversation, and as they chat we get to see how the two got to this moment in time, from Adam’s bold choice to chase his sound to Marek’s failing marriage.

Witold Leszczynski’s 1978 feature film, Rekolekcje, often plays out like an artistic fever dream. All of the major themes and elements of life are contained within, from love to success, and played out via the personalities of Adam and Marek, and their memories. If Adam is about being true to himself, Marek is about being true so long as it is widely accepted by those around him. A late narrative reveal lets us in on the world Marek has constructed from various conversations he’s recorded with not just Adam, but practically everyone, and another element comes into play: consumption versus creation. How do you have your own thoughts, when you’re constantly collecting and consuming the thoughts held by those around you?

And, again, though the film may be 35 years old as of this review, the themes it confronts are no less relevant today. Practical versus artistic success has long been a battle indulged throughout the evolution of humanity and the arts, as have the debates about the various ideas of success and love. Simply, this film, with the same basic characters and plotline, could’ve been made yesterday and it would resonate just as powerfully.

Well, to an extent. Even though it is, for me, a foreign language film, that doesn’t mean you can’t recognize good acting when you see it, and Ryszard Cieslak’s Adam is an engaging performance powerhouse. He’s not what you would consider a traditionally handsome leading man, but he nonetheless attracts and holds your attention whenever he’s onscreen. Even if you think his bass playing looks like a man having a seizure while attached to a musical instrument, you can’t help but get caught up in it.

In the end, while I personally don’t know the history behind Rekolekcje, or why it’s just recently surfaced on DVD, I’m glad I got to experience it. The themes it tackles are ever-present in my mind, and it was interesting to see those same conflicts played out over three decades prior. Worth checking out if you like Polish cinema, or want to see a quality foreign film on the conflicting choices and lifelines of those who accept an artistic calling.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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