A mysterious, unclassifiable semi-satire of its disconnected upper-classes, Poland’s selection for this year’s Oscar race follows an angelic masseuse trying to draw meaning out of his patients’ lives.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Wandering the streets of Warsaw, lugging a massage bed behind him, the placid, muscular Zhenia (Alec Utgoff) appears to materialise out of thin air. It will soon become clear that Zhenia is not all that he seems, an immigrant from a town near Chernobyl who employs a mix of hypnosis and massage to achieve his intentions: to bring some semblance of joy or peace to the lives of his patients, all wealthy suburbanites in a block of identikit McMansions outside of Warsaw.
Co-directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert (who also helmed the film’s wonderful, wintry cinematography), this is a semi-surreal, often hard-to-define work, deploying magical realism to evoke the lingering impact of an interloping pilgrim both achingly human and somewhat alien. Zhenia is blessed with mysterious powers, wholly disconnected from the miserable world of rich, upper-class types that surround him.
The film’s most affecting passages come from the interplay between Zhenia (wonderfully underplayed by Utgoff) and Maja Ostaszewska’s lonely, wine-swilling housewife, building to an ambiguous finale that leaves an intriguing aftertaste. — Tom Augustine
“...the film reaches a genuinely symphonic conclusion, shedding any excess rancour in its satire to unite a community in fears over death, disconnection and, per its title, a winter that seems to get warmer every year. The enigmatic stranger at its centre may be a healer of sorts, but he’s no messiah: it’ll take more than a tender touch to save any of them.” — Guy Lodge, Variety