Monday, March 7, 2011

Short Film Review: Smoke

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

      Last week, I received an email from a budding Belarusian filmmaker by the name of Grzegorz Cisiecki. What excited me most about this email, beyond the ensuing realization of a unique visual talent, was the email itself. The impetus for this email exchange is tantamount to the very nature of my blog. My primary goal is to provide unique film-related content. As a self-ascribed film geek, I value any opportunity that lets me interact with the film community. 
      Essentially, Grzegorz was hoping I could provide a commentary for his short film. I guess because I never like to disappoint, I will heed the young filmmaker's plea, and graciously offer up a review of his movie.
      Cisiecki's alluringly titled, Smoke is a mysterious short film that centers on the insoluble provocations of a sullen young man, seemingly alone in a sparsely furnished apartment. This man with no name sits down in his desolate room and begins playing a tape recorder; a rather mundane activity, if not for the surmounting and opaque manifestations of a past romance. Soon after, our cheerless no name protagonist is seen driving a car while a stout, bald man fixates on something in the back seat, resulting in a smattering of blood. 
      Moments later, the nameless wonder enters an apparent brothel surrounded by an outfit of seedy figures, most striking among them is a group of alluring women—rounding out the motley crew is a priest and the aforementioned fat man who is now fashioning a scant head of hair and a beard. In keeping with this deliberate overture of mystery, illusive 'menus' are passed around the table followed by a succession of unabashedly furtive actions from the recognizable fat man and some other nameless, creepy figure.
      At this juncture of the film, Cisiecki's de facto trademark style becomes abundantly clear, as two contrasting moods are appropriated—at one end of the spectrum is an environment defined by the permeation of a smoky haze of drugs, obscurity, and sexuality while the other end presents an atmosphere characterized by luminous, quieter moments of the nameless gentleman and his Juliet.
      Finally, set in a grassy field adjacent to a narrow stream, the young nameless man and his ostensible girlfriend idyllically enchant one another on their backs whilst the fat man lays a close distance away. The film ends with the nameless man back in the apartment with his girlfriend in the background, and the sound of a blank cassette playing on the tape recorder. 

      Grzegorz's film is a stunning visual delight that is wholly experimental in its structure. He eschews traditional linear narrative (similar to Tarantino) while also neglecting dialogue (completely different to Tarantino). Consequently, our journey through the film is beset by an elaborate series of images that seamlessly intertwine intimations of sexuality, psychosis, violence, and a deafening mystery; it is a film that moves rhythmically, complemented by a nuanced visual approach and a profusion of surreal undercurrents. This dynamic effect can only be accomplished through painstaking work in the editing room. If any transition seems out-of-place, the focus of the narrative is blurred, and the ultimate harmony of the story is lost. Fortunately, Cisiecki proves his unrelenting worth in the same room where Kubrick would spend endless hours constructing his unmistakably brilliant cinematic visions: the editing room.
      Quite fittingly, the film's title, Dym translates as Smoke; apropos given the recurrence of smoky images throughout the film's stark visual narrative. Cisiecki's style demands an unquestioned reliance upon the application of color. The seeming lack of linearity—an accusation that spawns from the bereavement of narration—is largely unfounded because of Cisiecki's disciplined visual stewardship. Painting himself as a sort of visual alchemist—perhaps in the vein of David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick circa Eyes Wide Shut—Cisiecki displays a formidable visual command. He employs a strong contrast of sharp, vibrant hues and dark, violent, and morose colors.
      Purposefully abstract and ambiguous, Cisiecki's dominant hue is marked by an acute red—the most emotionally intense color. This strong reliance upon red pigmentations signals a stimulative pretension of activity; no doubt, an allusion to love. Consequently, any analysis of Smoke is incomplete without the blatant acknowledgment of a fractured romance. You need not be an astute observer to realize that this beautifully mysterious short film is a cautious tale of the trials and tribulations resulting from a love-forlorn. 

      The plot of this short film, much like smoke itself, breathes and whirls ethereally. Subsequently, the heart of the story, and more importantly the characters themselves, are deftly woven into a tapestry of images and hardly discernible dramas. From the beats of slow but effective pacing, this iconography helps enlighten our perspective. Cisiecki puts forth an earnest effort to convince us that reality is subservient to aesthetic composition. More specifically, he is championing the notion of visual identity—the idea that our visual sensors enhance our physical states, which make life more habitable.
      The scene arrangements are competently composed despite the obnoxious taint of derivative and unoriginal composition. Cisiecki displays an effective talent for masterminding cuts. This talent is best evidenced in the scene with the undulating sheet that purges away the nameless man from his lover while the two lay in bed.
      From a technical appraisal, the best element of the film is the magnificently stylish cinematography, which is amalgamated by the elaborate framing of shots and sumptuous camera work. The editing is sharp and synchronizes well with the dialogue-free soundtrack, which helps foster a sense of gloom and underlying anxiety. 

      Inevitably, some will postulate, "What does this all mean?" And given my lack of predisposition to any of Cisiecki's prior work, my simple reply is "Anything you damn well please." This is an intriguing response that strikes a chord with any admirer, of say Christopher Nolan—anyone who walked out of Inception with an inconclusive idea as to the dichotomy of dream vs. reality can understand this dilemma.
      One can only reasonably conjecture a glimmer of certainty with regards to the overriding essence of Cisiecki's story—is he purposefully molding a story void of any coherent or cohesive meaning? More likely in fact, he is attempting to construct a movie that appeals to the emotions of the audience. Any inherent meaning is meaningless. What is important is our expense of emotional equity. 
      Perhaps, some of you may rally in anger at the seeming incomprehensibility of this short. But if for just one fleeting moment, his visual narrative registers a poignant blow to your soul, then his film is a success. Whether or not you firmly understand the intrinsic meaning, you can at least appreciate the experimental, surrealistic, and intriguing exposition of images, assembled in a manner consistent with the style of David lynch. 
      Ultimately, I urge the power elite of Hollywood to take notice of Cisiecki as well as his skilled cinematographer, Dawid Rymar. These two have both illustrated an arsenal of talent equal or greater than many current working directors. If my blog had any clout or pull, perhaps a feature film could be facilitated. At the very least, my propensity for visual abstractness was subjected to a visceral and imperfect unraveling of images that can be aptly characterized as tantalizing, perverse, and most strikingly, surreal. 

8 out of 10

Smoke from Grzegorz Cisiecki on Vimeo.


  1. Yes, the artwork on the poster nicely encapsulates the surrealist and ominous elements of the film. And it's just cool to stare at.

  2. Yeah it was something different.

    Check out the film above—its only a little over 7 minutes long!

  3. Brilliant review. I will most definitely be checking this out. Anyone who can invoke Kubrick, Lynch and Tarantino in the span of eight minutes is intrigues me.

  4. Thanks Melissa!

    For a lover of visual expression, these eight minutes were a treat. There are elements of his approach that reminded me of Lynch (the surrealism and visual imagination), Tarantino (the non-linear story), and Kubrick (the obvious abundance of editing work).

    We'll have to see for ourselves in the next 20 years if Cisiecki ever amounts to something in the film world, but this short video definitely illustrated a talent—can he take it further, refine it, and build on it? That is the pivotal question.

    But for me, it is unfair to draw parallels to some of these cinematic greats (which I should have alluded to in my review), if Cisiecki never delves into the feature-film world, and maintains a place for a long time. For now, those comparisons are tenuous and only mere style comparisons.

  5. This is brilliant, I enjoyed reading your post and being mesmorised by 8 minutes of genius, indeed Hollywood should pay attention to this guy.

    Great post Matty

  6. Thanks Demps!

    And as usual, your appraisal of the video is money. Hopefully, Hollywood will take notice and we'll get a chance to see Cisiecki work his magic in the feature film arena.

  7. Matty, you never fail to fascinate me with your writing abilities! :) You've delivered a fantastic review yet again. Bravo!

    If I have to be honest, I've also received an e-mail from this film-maker and he wanted me to review his short film, but I totally forgot to do that, and now I feel a bit guilty. Anyway, you did a way better job than I would have done, so I consider you my saver :)

  8. Thanks Nebular!

    Haha, yeah I had a feeling this guy was making the rounds with all the film bloggers. Melissa even told me he e-mailed her!

    I wasn't going to write a review until I watched it. From that point on, I had too much to say to remain reticent.

    Since I've been running this film blog, I've been getting a lot of these "requests," lol.

    Thanks for the positive support.