Kinga Dębska created a moving and unpretentious film out of a story about a family, illness, and death. These Daughters of Mine, which received awards from the journalists and the audience of the Gdynia Film Festival, is a shamelessly tender and wonderfully acted piece of cinema.
Krzysztof Mętrak used to write about films such as These Daughters of Mine that they are characterised by a ‘screen musicality.’ They inspire lots of empathy in the viewers and soak them up in an emotional whirlwind. Kinga Dębska's picture exemplifies cinema which brings solace even though it doesn't sweeten things, which confronts difficult subjects whilst at the same time avoiding grand statements and pompous gestures. One cannot dislike this movie – it is impossible to resist, for in this story about two sisters facing their parents' illness and dying, Kinga Dębska found a golden balance between comedy and drama, between bitterness and hope.
Marta (Agata Kulesza) is an actor in a popular telenovela. Divorced, she is a single mother of an almost adult daughter; she can't handle men, but on the other hand, she is down-to-earth. Her sister, Kasia (Gabriela Muskała) is completely different – she works as a teacher and drowns her everyday stress in alcohol. She has a permanently unemployed husband (Marcin Dorociński), an adolescent son, and financial problems, which she solves with the help of her father (Marian Dziędziel). The former is slightly coarse, but strong, while the other – caring and helpless. They love and hate each other at the same time, they can't stand yet can't do without each other. The relationship between the two sisters becomes even more complicated when their parents fall sick.
In These Daughters of Mine, Dębska revisits events from her own life and tells the story of her own parents' disease. We will not, however, stumble upon any exhibitionist tones or emotional blackmail. Dębska translates her story into a language of unpretentious tragicomedy in which there is no room for false notes.
Her film brings to mind Małgorzata Szumowska's 33 Scenes from Life, another story about the death of loved ones. But These Daughters of Mine is much more heart-warming than Szumowska's picture. While the latter painfully dissected her own life with cold blood and rough treatment, Kinga Dębska is more compassionate towards her protagonists. She talks about a family in which not everything is fine, and people are imperfect, but she does not judge them even for a moment.
Dębska's exceptional tenderness in portrayal of her characters is paired here with the directing and acting precision. It is impossible to write about These Daughters of Mine without mentioning the performances that shape this film. Let us begin with Gabriela Muskała – neurotic and gloriously helpless. Muskała, who seems to be made for this role, simultaneously irritates, entertains, and endears. She and Agata Kulesza, who once again shows off her talent, complement one another superbly. Kulesza does not try to suck up to the viewer, she doesn't shine or charge, but, scene after scene, she constructs a character filled with doubts, intrinsically coherent, but nevertheless complex. Her precision and dexterity impress.
Marian Dziędziel plays the father struggling with brain tumour. He is caring, unbridled, and weak – Dziędziel delivers a spot-on representation of the different faces of protagonist. However, the greatest strength of his enactment lies is his naturalness and on-screen authenticity, which one cannot simply acquire, but which Dziędziel has plenty of. He doesn't really need to act (which he can do), because without that he is able to bring emotions, sensibility, and life experience to the screen.
These Daughters of Mine has a scene in which the father wakes up from a coma and walks down a dark hospital corridor. We see him from behind, the gown reveals the actor's buttocks. Dziędziel was embarrassed when filming this scene, and was coming up with different solutions on the set, in order to avoid the necessity to show himself naked. It was completely unnecessary. The scene of wandering around the hospital is one of the most touching ones in Dębska's film. It is silent, and yet so eloquent when it comes to portraying loneliness and illness, in the light of which a man is defenceless. This should also be credited to the actor. Half jokingly, one could say that Marian Dziędziel's bare arse carries more truth than many other leading roles.
The power of These Daughters of Mine comes from its director's maturity and self-awareness. Dębska does not promise more than she is able to give. She doesn't sweeten things, but she also doesn't exaggerate them. She reaches for conventional patterns and weaves her own story out of them.
Polish cinema needs films like this. Pictures that are universal, accessible, and wise. The issue with the domestic film world has not been the lack of artistic talents, but its split into two disconnected continents. One of them has been inhabited by the amateurs and authors of high-brow cinema, which, in spite of its artistic merits has not been able to reach mass public, while the other one has been taken over by popular films, attracting millions of viewers, but often offensive towards them. Anything halfway has been extremely rare. Dębska's film is one of such exceptional encounters.
After Gods, These Daughters of Mine is an example of how well-made popular cinema should look. Cinema which, while attracting the audiences, doesn't lower its level, which introduces genre patterns, but infuses them with the authors' personal emotions. It is a film that seduces with an unforced wisdom and warmth, accompanying the viewer long after the screening ends.
- These Daughters of Mine (Moje córki krowy), writer and director: Kinga Dębska, cinematography: Andrzej Wojciechowski, music: Bartosz Chajdecki, cast: Agata Kulesza, Gabriela Muskała, Marian Dziędziel, Marcin Dorociński, Małgorzata Niemirska, Maria Dębska. Distributor in Poland: Kino Świat. Polish premiere 08.01.2016.
Bartosz Staszczyszyn, January 2016 r., transl. AM, February 2016Bartosz Staszczyszyn