Maciej Pieprzyca created an ironic, unpretentious film filled with tenderness, but not overly emotional. Life Feels Good, a story of loneliness and fortitude, is one of the touching works of today’s Polish cinematography
Mateusz was born with cerebral palsy, and doctors declared that he was severely mentally disabled. The boy did not speak, and could not walk. “If only I could understand you”, his mother sighs (the fantastic Dorota Kolak). Neither she nor the rest of the family submit to the handicap of Mateusz (Dawid Ogrodnik), surrounding the boy with love and care. It is only when the mother’s own illness makes it impossible for her to take care of Mateusz that he finds himself confined to a care centre, where he has to battle to preserve his own dignity.
Imprisoned in the Body
This story in fact took place, and the first to tell it was Ewa Pięta, in the documentary film Jak motyl / Like a Butterfly, available on the TVP Polish televison website. When Pięta died of cancer, Maciej Pieprzyca, a friend of the director from her years as a student, decided to make a film to pay homage to the deceased artist. Thus the idea for Life Feels Good (Chce się żyć, the Polish title, means "one wants to live") was born.
Pieprzyca went for a humble form, not only because of financial constraints but because the lead protagonist is the human and visual ornamentation. Life Feels Good is told with static takes and a discreet soundtrack, which doesn’t overwhelm the acting.
In contrast to Julian Schanbel’s great movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Pieprzyca doesn’t subjectify the work of the camera, but places it on the side and carefully observes his protagonists. His humbleness as a director brings to the fore what is most important for the film - the drama of a human being incapable of communicating with the world.
Dawid Ogrodnik’s Great Role
Following the festival premiere of Life Feels Good, the acclaimed cinematographer Sławomir Idziak stated that if Pieprzyca’s film was American, Ogrodnik would be a sure candidate for the Oscar for Best Actor. Indeed, Ogrodnik’s role is already being compared to Daniel Day Lewis’ Academy Award-winning work in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot.
With every jolt of his muscles, Ogrodnik convyes emotion and inner tension. Without words, he creates the portrait of a man imprisoned by his own body, and the voice that reaches us from off the set completes this bitter-sweet story. Ogrodnik’s Mateusz is not a marionette that embodies human suffering, but a living human being, full of contradictions, suffering, but also gifted with a sense of humour. On the one hand he is moving, and on the other – funny. He systematically judges female breasts (classified on a 1 to 10 scale), and comments on his own tragedy with a distance.
The Audacity of Humbleness
Pieprzyca had a lot of luck with the actors. Arkadiusz Jakubik impersonates the simple physical worker with a golden heart and a weakness for alcohol, and he is filled with charm and warmth, while Katarzyna Zawadzka, who cares for Mateusz, and Helena Sujecka, who plays his sister, have both managed to convey ambiguous and intriguingly unobvious characters. The young Kamil Tkacz, who portrays the five-year-old Mateusz, also displays great acting talent as he tackles that extremely difficult role.
But apart from Ogrodnik, the biggest star of Life Feels Good is Dorota Kola, an actress who was discovered by Polish cinema rather late. Once again she proves to be an exceptionally mature, gifted artist. As Mateusz's mother, she is full of love, understanding and at peace with her own fate. Without any grand gestures or melodramatic moments, the actress was capable of conveying a deeply moving, true and beautiful character.
This is what Pieprzyca’s film is like – a picture in which artistic ambitions give way to the truth of psychological portraits. A story of dignity, that has to be fought for, about giving yourself and about self-sacrifice has a catharctic power. The tears that Pieprzyca makes flow down our cheeks bear testimony to his maturity, thanks to which he removes himself and leaves us with this beautiful, absolutely pure film.
Screenings of Life Feels Good begin on the 11th of October. A month before, Pieprzyca’s book of the same title, Chce się żyć, the basis for the filmscript, was distributed across bookstores in Poland.
• Chce się żyć 2013, Written and directed by: Maciej Pieprzyca, cinematography: Paweł Dyllus, set design: Joanna Anastazja Wójcik, music: Bartosz Chajdecki, editing: Krzysztof Szpetmański. cast: Dawid Ogrodnik, Kamil Tkacz, Dorota Kolak, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Anna Nehrebecka, Katarzyna Zawadzka, Helena Sujecka, Mikołaj Roznerski, Tymoteusz Marciniak, Anna Karczmarczyk, Grzegorz Mielczarek, Dariusz Chojnacki. Distributed by: Kino Świat.
Bartosz Staszczyszyn, 03.10.2013, translated by PS, 4.10.2013