Fear of Falling - Bartek Konopka
Still-frame from Fear of Falling, dir. B. Konopka. Source: Munk Studio
A 2011 feature film directed by Bartek Konopka
The Polish director's feature debut follows Tomek, a man who left behind his past in the Polish countryside and moved to a big city. He has found a career as a TV news anchor and has just started a family. One day he receives a message from a psychiatric hospital in his home town about his father's illness. Not heeding his own better judgement, nor the advice of his closest friends, Tomek decides to reach out to his father even though the two haven’t seen each other in years. Tomek engages himself in a relationship on the verge of craziness and normality - a relationship that will make him re-evaluate his entire life
The film is based on Bartek Konopka's own experiences:
This film is very much one-of-a-kind for me. I have never before tried to write something which has come straight out of my personal life. The story it tells has haunted me for many years. The first time I tackled it was in my graduation film. I then tried to create a screenplay for a feature based on this story. However, I was not yet ready to take it on. It was only after I lost my father and became a father myself that I began to see it from a new and painful perspective
The director added that in January 2005 his wife Bogusia was expecting a child. The baby was already one week overdue. Konopka's mother had spent a month with them; traveling to Warsaw especially to be with them. Finally, she could stay no longer; she had to go back to her job in Vienna. On her way back, she was driving through Dąbrowa Górnicza – their hometown. She called about three days later, saying that she had stayed longer than intended because when she had called on her former husband at his apartment he hadn't answered the door. The fire department knocked down the door to find the director's father had passed away. The director drew on these personal experiences to make the film, realising nonetheless that there are many things that he will never be able to share with his father. Konopka said,
At first, the news knocked me out. I realised I had not settled all the things with my father. I hadn’t talked to him. We didn’t tell each other all the things we should have told one another,
While the film is based on real events, Konopka has taken some poetic licence with the subject,
The last sequence, when Tomek kidnaps his father from the hospital, this did not happen in my life, I was never up for it. I never gave my father this trip to an important place - the mountains. I thought: what would happen if I took this trip in my imagination? This film is the fulfillment of that story, a process bringing another person back to life.
According to the director one of the first decisions in the pre-productiuon process was to select an actor to play Tomek's father. Eventually, Konopka selected veteran actor Krzysztof Stroiński. "I really wanted to get this part," the actor was quoted as saying by the producers, adding,
What appealed to me was the ambiguous area between something that is still intelligence and independence of character, and something, which is already a symptom of illness. The attempt at self-realisation - the recognition and controlling of it - was a very rich material to build a part on.
The film has been nominated for a number of awards, but still it has received mixed reviews from international critics. Alissa Simon wrote in Variety magazine that the film "offers the hope that it's never too late to repair broken relationships, but lacks that pic's poignant performances and convincingly detailed relationships". Laurence Boyce in Screen Daily called Konopka's directing style crisp and clean, contrasting the reality of a middle-class life with the sterility of the hospital and the turbulent nature of their relationship, making for a "compelling and emotional movie". She remarks that "some clunky moments (such as some flashback sequences, treated to look like old film stock, that just seem rather trite) but this strong debut from a director who should watched over the coming years.
The film premiered in North American at the 2011 Montreal International Film Festival. It premieres in Poland in April 2012. It also had its Italian premiere as an official selection of the Lecce European Film Festival which takes place between the 17th-22nd of April 2012. In Lecce the film's cinematographer Piotr Niemyjski won for Best Cinematography.
Bartek Konopka is one of the most promising young Polish directors. His film Rabbit a la Berlin was nominated for the Short Documentary Academy Award in 2010, and won awards at festivals such as Hot Docs Toronto, Hamptons, Jihlava, Kraków Film Festival, Planete Doc Review. Konopka holds a Master degree in film studies from the Jagiellonian University and has graduated from the directing department in the Kieślowski Radio and Television School in Katowice and the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing.
Lęk wysokości / Fear of falling, 2011, Poland. Directed by: Bartosz Konopka; screenplay by: Piotr Borkowski, Bartosz Konopka; cinematography by: Piotr Niemyjski; art direction by: Elwira Pluta; costumes by: Katarzyna Lewińska; edited by: Jarosław Barzan; artistic supervision by: Agnieszka Holland; produced by: Jacek Bromski, Dariusz Gajewski, Ewa Jastrzębska. production: Studio Munka/Polish Filmmakers Association. Running time: 90 minutes; Colour
Awards and nominations
2011: Nominated for the Debut Director Award at the 2011 Cameraimage International Film in Łódź, nominated for the New Polish Films award at the Nowe Horizonty Film Festival in Wrocław and won the Golden Lion award for best debut feature as well as nominated for the Grand Prix at the Golden Lion awards in Gdynia.