In I'm a Killer, Maciej Pieprzyca combined a stylish crime story with a psychological thriller. Pieprzyca’s tale of morality entangled in evil proves that popular cinema does not have to be stupid, and that artistic ambitions do not preclude communicativeness.
When young filmmakers discuss broadening the language of film, Maciej Pieprzyca shows what one can accomplish by acknowledging the language and using it skilfully as a film tool. The creator of Chips respects the rules of film workshop but thanks to his humility and self-consciousness, he created a work of art of truly high quality.
The Vampire of Zagłębie is back
In I'm a Killer Pieprzyca tells a story inspired by Zdzisław Marchwicki, an alleged serial killer found guilty by the communist regime of Poland and sentenced to death. Accused of killing fourteen women, Pieprzyca was the greatest terror of his times. He also became the greatest enemy of the contemporaneous authorities, which could not allow a bloody scar to appear on their image of the ideal state. The communist regime was not interested in the facts that there were lots of inadequacies in the investigation and that a part of the evidence was fabricated. Marchwicki’s death was meant to calm the emotions of society.
Maciej Pieprzyca tells the story from the perspective of Janusz (Mirosław Haniszewski), a young policeman who manages a group investigating the Vampire of Zagłębie. Being thrown in at the deep end and pressured by his superiors, Janusz does everything to catch and sentence the murderer. The problem appears when at one point he is forced to cross moral borders to continue the investigation.
This turns out to be the most interesting part of Pieprzyca’s film. The director shows a man who is pushed to choose between what is morally right but bad for his career, and what harms other people but may bring a better life for him and his family. A classic detective story suddenly becomes a parable for the price that one may have to pay for personal fulfilment.
Blending different styles
The director of Life Feels Good balances fluently between different film genres. Like in Łukasz Palkowski’s Gods, in I'm a Killer we find a lot of comedic sequences, a dynamic police investigation, and a private portrait of a young man who decides on a compromise with the world. Pieprzyca manages to keep the pace and lightness even when he abandons the patterns of popular cinema in favour of psychological depth.
During the 41st Gdynia Film Festival I'm a Killer won the Silver Lions and the award for best script. The latter in particular was not a surprise. The story of the young policeman is organised according to the script-writing Decalogue: there is an expressive protagonist whose life changes in front of viewer’s eyes, there is a complicated network of dependence, turning points, tension, and a stake clear enough to sustain viewer’s interests.
Leading and secondary roles
In choosing the actor for the leading character in his film, Pieprzyca proved that he is not afraid of taking risks. Mirosław Haniszewski, who plays Janusz, was not previously experienced in big roles. It is a shame, considering his marvellous performance in I'm a Killer, where he shows himself as a sensitive and clever actor who knows how to create psychologically complicated, ambivalent and multilateral characters.
Haniszewski manages to gain the viewer’s sympathy by humanising the protagonist and allowing us to stand beside him both when he fights the pathologies of the communist regime trying to defend his independence and when he makes mistakes becoming morally dubious.
The great strength of Pieprzyca’s film are the supporting actors. We follow astounding performances of Arkadiusz Jakubik, who plays the alleged Vampire, and Agata Kulesza, who plays his unfaithful wife. The two steal the show whenever they appear on the screen – Kulesza as a vulgar wife and Jakubik as a trapped man who does not understand his situation and remains touchingly helpless against it.
The list of important secondary figures does not end with the pair mentioned above. Great roles are played by Piotr Adamczyk, as a cynical chief of police, Piotr Żuławski, a temperamental friend of the main protagonist and Magdalena Popławska who as Janusz’s wife brings an undefinable radiance with her whenever she appears on the screen.
Maciej Pieprzyca shows how much one can accomplish by combining humility with craft and the courage to raise arduous questions. I'm a Killer, one of the greatest winners of the 41st Gdynia Film Festival, is a film journey through history. A scary, sometimes funny, stylishly told, and above all – touchingly true story.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, October 2016, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, October 2016