Baby Bump, the début feature film by Kuba Czekaj, is a comic-like tale about the hell of puberty as well as proof of the director's great talent. It had its Polish premiere on 3rd June, 2016.
In Kuba Czekaj's eyes, puberty is nothing pleasant. Instead of first crushes, it comes with acne and insecurities; instead of adventures shared with his peers, there is bitter loneliness; instead of innocence, there is awkward and incomprehensible sexuality. For Mickey House (played by the magnificent Kacper Olszewski), the lead protagonist of Baby Bump, growing up is hell.
Mickey has protruding ears and an overprotective mother. He also has an idea of how to deal with the first problem: in order to earn money for plastic surgery, the young man sells his urine. There is no shortage of buyers – everyone in Mickey's school wants to pass the drug test, and since Mickey doesn't do drugs and has healthy eating habits, he does very well on this demanding market. He doesn't manage to cope as well with the second issue – the overzealous love received from his mother, who, disregarding the changes affecting her son's mind and body, would like him to remain her little boy forever.
In his début film, Czekaj presents two mutually complementing aspects of growing up: the transforming corporeality, and a psyche which can't keep up with the process of changes. The body of the eleven-year old boy takes control of him, mutates, becomes strange. Pimples which begin to appear on Mickey's face are merely an overture, to be followed by further physical and psychological changes. From now on, the boy's life will be accompanied by a variety of insecurities related to his body, erotic fantasies featuring his mother, as well as first wet dreams and embarrassing erections.
Baby Bump / trailer from Kuba Czekaj on Vimeo.
One of major roles in this visual opera is performed by Mickey's mother, played by the splendid (not for the first time!) Agnieszka Podsiadlik. She presents the mother as an attractive thirty-something woman. She has a job as a tester of items sold through TV shopping channels and is a single mother of a teenage boy. To her, Mickey is a living toy, a part of herself. Wanting to impede his way towards independence, she keeps infantilising him and treating him like a young child.
My films are an outcome of a fascination with the breakthrough moment when a child becomes a separate being. – said Czekaj in a conversation with Tadeusz Sobolewski from Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
Indeed, his earlier short films (Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark Room, Mum, or Twist&Blood), have all revisited the themes of the relationship between children and their parents, attempting to describe the world of the young protagonists without making simplifications or reaching for hackneyed clichés. Nonetheless, none of Czekaj's previous films have been as experimental as his full-length début.
In Baby Bump, Czekaj doesn't just tell the story of Mickey House, but also takes his viewers on a journey into his world. The plot is only a pretext and it is the images depicting his thought process that are foremost. In Mickey's world, fear of change is concealed by vulgarity. When expressing their corporeality, the young protagonists of Czekaj's film usually use vulgar speech, whereas the director illustrates their physical metamorphosis through naturalist shots. Popping a giant spot is filmed from up close, Mickey's erotic fantasies are illustrated by images of his mother's womb, and the ejaculations and nudity of the pubescent boy are also shown directly.
For many viewers, the aesthetics used by Czekaj will be unacceptable. It is hard to imagine otherwise, as the director reaches for comic-book like language and vivid imagery. In Baby Bump, the collaboration between scenographer Katarzyna Śląska and costume designer Aleksandra Staszko has created a world suspended between the fantasy of a teenage boy and reality. Adam Palenta's cinematography presents school as a mythical space in which innocence meets the filth of adulthood. In Baby Bump, childhood fantasies straight from Where the Wild Things Are are paired by the horror of Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko.
The Polish director realised his film as part of the Biennale College-Cinema programme, organised by the Venice Film Festival. After making it to the shortlist, his project ended up among the three submissions selected for funding. The film's budget amounted to 150 thousand euro – not much at all, considering the fact that the average cost of a full-length film in Poland comes to 1.2-1.8 million euro. With this budget and within a very limited time frame (shooting began in March 2015, while the first festival screenings took place in September), Czekaj created a picture that is very appealing and impressive in its formal precision. Baby Bump demonstrates a triumph of filmic thinking over budgetary limitations and acts as a testimony to the great talent of the director, who not only knows how to tell a story, but also knows exactly what he wants this story to be about.
Baby Bump, Screenplay and direction: Kuba Czekaj, DoP: Adam Palenta, scenography: Katarzyna Śląska, costume design: Aleksandra Staszko. cast: Kacper Olszewski, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Sebastian Łach, Weronika Wachowska, Andrzej Szeremeta, Andrzej Mastalerz. Polish premiere: 3rd June, 2016.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, transl. AM, May 2016