When a film smoothly transitions from a man flying through space with a LEGO starship to a chill hip hop number inside a retail store, you know you are in for a treat. And that’s only the beginning of Aleksandra Terpińska’s feature film debut Other People, a musical portrait of lost youth bursting with originality.
Adapted from Dorota Masłowska’s novel of the same name, Other People follows Kamil (Jacek Beler), a jobless and irresponsible man in his twenties who dreams about recording a rap album and buying expensive Nike shoes. He spends his days having sex with his girlfriend Aneta (Magdalena Koleśnik), getting drunk, and earning money from any side hustle he can think of. We learn all of this with the help of a Jesus-like figure (Sebastian Fabjański) who uses a crown of thorns over a cap and spits badass rhymes while Kamil and other characters go through their life. He’s a narrator who swiftly appears and disappears from the frame with the aid of Magdalena Chowańska’s phenomenal editing.
While doing some housework, Kamil ends up having sex with Iwana (Sonia Bohosiewicz), a rich housewife whose marriage is completely broken. Her husband Maciej (Marek Kalita) is a cocaine addict struggling to gain the trust and love of the daughter of this previous marriage.
All of these vaguely connected stories create an enthralling vision of society. Regardless of wealth or age, all of these characters are miserable and try to find solace through different means like sex, violence, bullying, alcohol, and consumerism. Social media is a prominent source of psychological suffering; Aneta uses Instagram and selfies to alleviate her emptiness while Iwana uses Facebook to spy on her husband’s life which eventually leads to more sadness. It’s a dark yet quite authentic portrayal of the absence of love.
Terpińska’s commands with precision a perfectly-oiled technical orchestra that could very well be described as a gigantic music video. The social drama construct is enhanced by lively aesthetics that use rhythm, energy, and music to rotate through its characters and tackle its complex subjects. There’s a touch of surrealism too, that, contrary to what logic would dictate, never breaks with the authenticity of the story.
The film takes place during Christmas, but Terpińska doesn’t use joy and carols. She extracts the sadness component of the season: solitude, broken families, and the end-of-year disappointment of failing to achieve your goals. And she keeps this masterful game of contrasts throughout. The high tempo is opposite to the gloomy rap lyrics of the songs and the cold environments in which the story takes place. And yet more proof of Terpińska’s skill is that, despite establishing a depressing atmosphere, you are never dragged into its misery thanks to the semi-musical nature of the film.
The award-winning editing of Magdalena Chowańska must be among this year’s best; despite the heavy subjects, a tricky mix of shots, and constant use of music, she effortlessly maintains a heart-racing pace, pulling you closer into the narrative with each song or dramatic twist. Bartosz Bieniek’s dynamic and intimate cinematography uses color and light to both create energy and convey the desolate lives of the characters in a cold city.
Jacek Beler is outstanding in the main role; the raw sadness stemming from his work captures the inescapable oppression of a boy whose environment (social and familiar) never gave him a chance to pursue a dream. After her breakout role in Sweat, Magdalena Koleśnik is slightly underused as Anete, but still delivers a magnetic performance that confirms her status as one of the most promising European actresses out there.
Although they serve their purpose, the Aneta and Maciej arcs are brief and underdeveloped. In fact, there’s an abundance of themes at play, and many of them are not explored thoroughly. And that’s because the film isn’t trying to give answers or create a deep examination of social structures in Poland.
Other People is a blender of social issues that works because it concocts interesting characters and supports them with an intoxicating audiovisual style that carefully imitates our current landscape where frantic and superficial media reigns supreme over thoughtful art; a landscape where quick reactions and empty interactions with strangers on the internet are preferred over the use of understanding to make truthful connections. In her impressive feature debut, Aleksandra Terpińska pushes artistic boundaries to create a unique piece of artwork that uses rap to condemn and empathize.
Other People screened as part of the 2021 Tallinn Black Nights Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Award. The film also scored Best Actor, Best Editing, and Best Directorial Debut awards at the 2021 Polish Film Festival.
- Rating - 9/109/10
In her impressive feature debut, Aleksandra Terpińska pushes artistic boundaries to create a unique piece of artwork that uses rap to condemn and empathize