Agnieszka Smoczyńska‘s sophomore feature, FUGUE, centers around memory loss and gender expectations. The film opens with a disheveled woman emerging from the subway tracks, clearly traumatized and unaware of her surroundings. In a quick jump forward two years, the same woman, now sporting short dark hair and just as confused, surrounded by medical experts. Her memory comprised only the past two years in Warsaw, and calling herself Alicja, doctors parade her on a talk show in a last-ditch effort to uncover her identity. A viewer calls in to claim the woman is his daughter. Reintroduced into a traditional household as a wife and mother of a young son, Alicja/Kinga struggles to integrate into a life she does not remember while being grilled about her disappearance.
Sporadic blue-tinged purgatory-like flashbacks of the woman in her heels, mussed blonde hair, and filthy trench coat give us little to go on. These sequences are undeniably unsettling. For most of the film, we draw our own conclusions based on the apparent hollowness of their marriage and a suggestion of an affair. Jakub Kijowski‘s bleak, but ravishing, cinematography sets the tone. Alicja stands apart from most of the action, furthering the feeling of isolation in an already stark environment.
Iwo Rajski plays Daniel with a natural fierceness that suggests he is starring in a documentary rather than a narrative. He is fantastic. Gabriela Muskala pens the screenplay and plays Alicja/Kinga. Her ability to reel you into her turmoil feels effortless. She is magnetic.
FUGUE is a far cry from The Lure and closer to the darkness and mystery of The Silent Twins. It begs the question of maternal instinct and gender roles. It touches on deep unresolved trauma and the unrealistic expectations of women to keep moving headlong. The heartbreaking finale sticks with you long after the credits roll.
Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden • 2018
Directed by: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
Written by: Gabriela Muskala
Starring: Gabriela Muskala, Lukasz Simlat, Iwo Rajski
Run time: 102 minutes
Language: Polish, English