As the London 13th Polish Kinoteka festival guide tells me The Mighty Angel falls into a line of cinematic masterpieces about alcoholic writers including The Lost weekend (1945) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Whilst I haven’t seen these films The Mighty Angel has sparked an interest.
Alcoholism is a massive issue in society, there is no doubt of that. It’s agreed that it’s an illness and it’s a fact that few among us haven’t been affected by it. It’s also a very un-flattering, difficult and nuanced subject to make a film about and if authenticity is aimed for, it will not be easy watching. These challenges are tackled head on by the acclaimed director Wojciech Smarzowski. Why do people turn to ‘the bottle’? Why do people lapse back into the addiction when it is clearly bad for them? Do you want to understand and experience the lows people reach as alcoholics? Would you like to have more compassion and understanding for them? If you’ve thought about these then you will appreciate and dare I say it enjoy The Mighty Angel.
Smarzowski answers these difficult questions expertly by putting his audience through the whirlwind ride of the talented writer, Jerzy (Robert Wieckiewicz), and his drinking problem. In a way, a documentary or article about the same subject would struggle to achieve the same results. We live it viscerally at every point and it’s uncomfortable to watch. Flashbacks, shocking images, lots of point of view shots – time and structure are all played with as tools that Smarzowski employs to involve the audience in the overall experience. In the opening scenes we feel we are in for a conventional ride as Jerzy, the renowned author and lecturer falls in love with a young woman and decides to quit drinking for her sake. Jerzy’s levels of drinking get very extreme very quickly, with some admittedly very funny dark comedic moments which provide short rest-bite from the characters’ turmoil.
We follow Jerzy in a series of drinking episodes that end him up in and out of a rehabilitation clinic more times than both me (and Jerzy) can remember. Smarzowski is a genius at making us appreciate Jerzy’s state of drunkeness and the nuances of why people drink excessively. One tool he daringly implements is employing a non linear structure that emulates what it would be like to abuse the booze to its limits. As we tread Jerzy’s path (and start drinking excessively) we start to become lost in the past and the present. It’s not a technique all would enjoy but for me it worked and helped me loose myself in Jerzy and his delirium of sustained alcohol abuse. I was hooked on how Jerzy kept returning to the booze, hooked on his fellow rehab patients’ flashbacks we were fooled into believing, hooked on finding out if there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. The exhausting momentum that we reach by the end of the film gives you a new-found appreciation for why and what it can be like to be dependent on a substance. As you can imagine it’s not a crowd pleaser, it is purposely difficult. Hopefully you might revel in its attempts to be authentic and visceral.
In summary watch this film if you have ever wondered what it is like to be an alcoholic and how bad it could get or how to express it on screen – and I promise The Might Angel won’t let you down. Smarzowski earned an important place among filmmakers after the year 2000. His films The Wedding, The Dark House, Rose, Traffic Department and Angel tackle crucial social problems and reveal vital issues of Polish identity.
KINOTEKA, the annual celebration of Polish Cinema, returns to London, UK, for an extended bumper 13th edition from 8th April-29th May, 2015.