New York, as seen by Piotr Stasik, is a whirl of passion, disappointment, and longing. This trance-like, poetical documentary film is a portrait of the city of lost people.
As the director further elaborated in a conversation with Anna Bielak for Onet:
People who come to New York are lonely and have complicated characters. It is hard for them to adjust to the world; adapting to another human being is not any easier. Not only artists come here, but all those who feel unwell elsewhere. Someone said that they are the people on whom gravity doesn’t work – they’re unfit for their countries, families, friends – and they’re looking for new lives in New York.
The director himself went to New York when he was working on his previous film – A Diary of a Journey. He was so entranced by the city that never sleeps that he decided to come back and draw a portrait of the American metropolis. But the image Stasik creates on screen is surprising, which, as one could say, is usual for this director.
Stasik has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Even when he decided to tackle seemingly obvious matters, he’d choose a surprising way to tell his story. When he was making The Last Day of Summer, a film about a Russian cadet school, he composed a documentary impression, rather than a reportage, out of a series of images depicting everyday life in the place. When, after years, the director decided to make a film about Tadeusz Rolke, the legend of Polish photojournalism, one could expect a reverential paean about the master’s life and work. But Stasik was interested in the spirit rather than the letter of Rolke’s art – he created a startling portrait of a man perpetually hungry for life and beauty. The director understood that Rolke’s greatness does not lie in his international successes or numerous awards, but that it is this hunger that makes the photographer a grand artist and human being.
In 21 x New York the director baffles the viewer. He tells the story of 21 people met on the New York subway, but he is not interested in where they live or what they do professionally. What Stasik is curious about are their feelings, little dreams pushing everyday life forward, and failures which constitute mundane reality. 21 x New York does not have sociological ambitions; it is a documentary story about troubled souls and insatiable craving for closeness.
Among the characters of the film there is a young Chinese outsider spinning tales about the nature of the world and a fourty-year-old man sharing his stories about unsuccessful dates. There is a young girl dreaming of a steady relationship ‒ a phenomenon that is very rare in a metropolis where love is a fast-moving product – a woman who realized that being alone makes her happy only after she went through a break-up.
Stasik carefully listen to each of them and fishes out the most moving sentences. ‘I deleted his number from my phone. He is married. It’s been so many years and I still can’t stop thinking about him. This is love’, confesses one of the characters. But we won’t find any talking heads in 21 x New York. We hear the stories about the characters’ lives off camera – they are meant to complement the impressional images the director peeks at.
Stasik filtered New York everyday life (it would be more precise to say ‘everynight life’, though, as most of the scenes take place after sunset) through his sensitivity. In the fast-moving city pulsing with diversity, the director focused on those who are lost. From the buzz of the big city he brings out stories full of longing: about better life, new relationships, the need for being close with other people. Together they constitute a terribly sad yet beautiful film postcard.
In an interview for Culture.pl the director admitted that the form of his movies is very often inspired by music, which sets the rhythm of the stories and defines their emotional temperature and character. In 21 x New York it is even more important than in the previous films. The trance-like, wavering film by Stasik has the structure of a whirl. It draws the viewer in with a kaleidoscope of attractive images. The dynamic montage lightens the document – it makes the stories about loneliness lose their depressive dimension. 21 x New York is primarily a story about constant searching and fervent encounters with the outside world.
Stasik’s documentary film resembles the poetical films of Jarmusch on the one hand, and on the other, the trance-like stories of Gaspar Noé. Both melancholia and a trance-like rhythm are present – so are a few stories and several characters that will be engraved on memory for long. For instance, a sensitive small boy and his father, a psychotherapist, who could easily be one of the characters in Todd Solondz’s films.
21 x New York proves Stasik is one of the most fascinating Polish documentarians. He doesn’t sign up for any documentary schools or currents, he creates his own, perhaps assuming the position of an outsider. He tells his stories in his own unique way, looking for a form that would express what is deeply hidden and inaccessible to the camera. The director’s sensitivity and artistic courage allows 21 x New York to break through the shell of superficiality and touch the painful truth about modern life and the people living it – lost in an aimless chase.
- 21 x New York, screenplay, directing, cinematography: Piotr Stasik, montage: Dorota Wardęszkiewicz, Tomasz Wolski, Piotr Stasik, music: Michał Fojcik
Written by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by NS, June 2016.Culture.pl