In his film ‘7 Emotions’ , Marek Koterski organises a two-hour-long psychotherapy session and takes his viewers for an extremely funny and, at the same time, overwhelmingly sad trip down the memory lane of childhood. Koterski’s ‘7 Emotions’ is not only an excellent comedy but also one of the bravest Polish films of recent years.
In 7 Emotions, Adam Miauczyński ends up on a shrink’s couch. He’s ended up cornered once again but instead of repeating the same phrase from Day of The Wacko (‘My life didn’t play out well, I wasted it’,) he tries to understand why he is unable to establish relationships with his loved ones and the world. He embarks on a journey to the time of his childhood to understand the primary causes of his emotional disability.
By taking a closer look at Adaś’s story (this time played by Michał Koterski), Marek Koterski tells about the hell of adolescence. Childhood, as seen through his eyes, is a time of great expectations we are unable to fulfil and of great hopes which crash against the wall of reality. Passionate adolescent love is accompanied by painful rejection and teachers’ drilling kills the remnants of children’s self-esteem. In Koterski’s film, the idyllic time of childhood is a constant fight for salvation – from the pressure exerted by parents, a flood of conflicting emotions which are impossible to understand, and the brutality of peers.
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Koterski demythologises childhood. He does not believe in its idealised image which we create as adults. By alluding to Gombrowicz, he creates a vision of childhood as a confrontation with form – a time of imposing social roles, pigeonholing, and the pressure of external expectations. In his film, everyone can recognise a fragment of their own childhood. The greatest misanthropist of Polish cinema once again places a mirror in front of us and orders us to carefully study the reflection. However, this time this task is far more difficult than, for example, in Day of the Wacko.
This is because of the cinematic style in which absurdist comedy meets adolescent drama and because of adult actors starring as children. Dressed in school uniforms and shorts, they return to their desks to once again take part in the spectacle of humiliating school rituals.
While it initially might come off as bizarre and manneristic, it soon starts to make sense. Koterski shows his young characters as small adults. He does not want us to treat them leniently and with a feeling of superiority like one usually treats children. He demands equal treatment and shows that every adult carries the baggage of the childhood experiences which formed them.
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7 Emotions is a triumph of Koterski’s artistic courage – he is not afraid of radical formal solutions. In the opening scene, the narrator (Krystyna Czubówna) provides commentary on the family life of the characters as if she was providing commentary for a nature documentary. This might seem trite and unoriginal but, after a while, this artistic decision begins to work. Koterski has the ability to transform his weaknesses into strengths. In time, Czubówna’s ironical punchlines and playful references to the formula of a scripted TV documentary provoke bursts of laughter.
However, these are not the only sources of humour in Koterski’s film. In 7 Emotions, even casting choices turn out to be a type of inter-textual joke and the building blocks of additional meanings. After all, it is not a coincidence that Katarzyna Figura, also known as Gosia from Ajlawju, the object of affection of several generations of Polish men, is cast as the class beauty and Adaś’s crush. Marcin Dorociński, the Evil Angel from We’re All Christs, is the biggest troublemaker in the class. Andrzej Chyra, previously cast by Koterski as Miauczyński’s alcoholic friend, is little Adaś’s new friend. Małgorzata Bogdańska, privately Koterski’s wife, plays Adaś’s admirer.
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Koterski uses his favourite actors and their artistic history to create symbolic meanings. In his film actors bring over the characters they played as before and the values with which they are associated. It is no coincidence that Robert Węckiewicz and Adam Woronowicz play, respectively, Miauczyński’s brother and father – they both starred in Man, Chicks Are Just Different. In other roles, we see Andrzej Mastalerz as the class clown and Tomasz Karolak as Gruby (‘Fatty’).
However, it is Gabriela Muskała, the class nerd, who steals the film. Muskała has so much passion, humour, and energy that she makes the scenes in which she appears her own. Her character is a tragicomic country girl who tries to fulfil the dreams of her parents and pays a great price for it. At the 43rd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, where the film premiered, there was no better supporting role.
Koterski’s amusing and brilliant film has its shortcomings. The final sequence is the biggest of them – grotesque comedy transforms into a lecture about parenting, the necessity of respect towards children, and the fact the parents have no right to burden their offspring with their own baggage. Koterski explains all this through one of the characters as if he did not believe that the viewers could understand the message on their own.
This does not change the fact that 7 Emotions is a great achievement for Koterski which proves that there is no better psychotherapist in Polish cinema. On the screen, the director exposes not only himself but also all of us.
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- 7 Emotions, writer and director: Marek Koterski, cinematography: Jerzy Zieliński. Starring: Michał Koterski, Marcin Dorociński, Małgorzata Bogdańska, Robert Więckiewicz, Maja Ostaszewska, Adam Woronowicz, Andrzej Chyra, Katarzyna Figura, Andrzej Mastalerz, Gabriela Muskała.
Originally written in Polish by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated to English by Patryk Grabowski, May 2019