Pregnancy is an occasion for existential housekeeping in the quietly moving Polish drama “Stranger”. A beautiful young (and unmarried) woman named Eva (Malgosia Bela) is despairing upon first hearing the news of her condition. How can she possibly bring a new human being into this world when she herself knows so little about it and has never even been in love? Yet when she overhears a nurse tell another expectant mother that a fetus can actually hear her when she speaks, Eva has a sudden, life-affirming change of heart. (She also had her wallet stolen earlier that day, making her decision that much easier.) Not only does she decide that she desperately wants to have the child, she is compelled to breathlessly share every little bit of her limited knowledge about life and love with it as well. In the process of this prenatal education, Eva discovers unknown things about herself, her place in the world, and possibly even love, via an unlikely relationship with a junkie named Michal (Marek Walczewski), who just so happened to be her wallet-snatcher.
The titular stranger would obviously suggest Eva’s unborn baby, but in fact, could also refer to Eva herself. As delicately portrayed by Miss Bela, Eva undergoes a remarkable, though subtle, transformation throughout the film. Once an aimless free spirit, this striking beauty matures into a woman of great depth and capacity for love by film’s end. Her change is prompted by a swirling torrent of emotions, including a “tremendous feeling of joy”, fear, and even anger. To Eva, it takes great courage to love life, while to Michal, in many ways her foil, it takes great courage to end one’s life. In fact, it is this dichotomy of life and death, love and fear, which most prominently informs the look and feel of “Stranger”. There are basically two worlds presented in this film: the warm, safe world of Eva’s personal spaces and the dark, nightmarish world of the city into which she occasionally, bravely ventures. Director Malgosia Szumowska and cinematography Michal Englert prove themselves to be adept at fashioning such vivid places and moods.
“Stranger” is most effective as a stylish, poetic examination/celebration of pregnancy, self-discovery, femininity, and of course life. Through her light directorial touch and sublime use of classical music, Szumowska impresses with a haunting and original work of art. The film is not without its flaws however. In particular, subplots concerning Eva’s troubled friend and rapidly deteriorating father either don’t quite work or are frustratingly oblique in their execution, in the way only foreign films can be. With these subplots, Szumowska and co-screenwriter Przemek Nowakoski are clearly trying to create greater context for Eva’s inner journey, but their muddled attempt only results in a lesser film. Nonetheless, “Stranger” is simple, lyrical filmmaking, finely acted and highly impressionistic.