Unhealed wounds, mutual accusations and intergenerational misunderstandings. In Piotr Trzaskalski’s film, a lifetime of unresolved issues and buried secrets come to light when estranged fathers and sons are brought together in a search for the woman who binds them together.
Film still, photo: ITI Cinema.
She left pork chops in the fridge and a goodbye letter on the cupboard. After many years of marriage, Barbara (Anna Nehrebecka) leaves her husband Włodek (Michał Urbaniak), stating that she has left him for another man. The 70-year-old, with advanced diabetes and an addiction to alcohol, has a heart attack. Włodek's long-lost son Paweł (Artur Żmijewski), a world-famous pianist who lives in Germany, and grandson Maciek (Krzysztof Chodorowski), who lives in England with his mother, come to see him immediately. Old grudges, accusations and grievances resurface. When Włodek's condition improves, the three begin a search for Barbara,their wife - mother - grandmother.
In a Vicious Circle
The three men are unaware of how similar they are. What angers each in the attitude and behaviour of the others sheds light on issues they face with themselves. They make the same mistakes and are unable to show empathy, understanding and sensitivity. The youngest asks his father, "Were you happy when I was born?", and Paweł answers, "Of course I was happy. What else was I supposed to do?" From fear of getting hurt, Trzasklaski’s protagonists hide their feelings behind masks of bitterness. My Father’s Bike shows emotionally blocked people failing to forgive each other and ending up in the same behaviours.
Trzaskalski's film joins other recent Polish features dealing with intergenerational topics. The father figure appears in Bartek Konopka’s Fear of Falling, a 2011 release about sickness separating and uniting a father with his son. In Rafael Lewandowski’s The Mole, a son’s life is turned upside down when he discovers his father is not the person he thought he was. Marek Lechki’s Erratum chronicles a man's struggle with regret from the distant and recent past, all intricately linked to his father. In My Father's Bike, unlike these films on the topic, the intergenerational conflict holds a touch of comedy. Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter called it a "wryly comic crowdpleaser from Poland [with] prickly humor and high-profile stars".
A comparable "temperature of emotions"
According to Bartosz Staszczyszyn, writing for culture.pl, Trzaskalski’s cinema is simple and honest: "He believes in the power of stories and the strength of human emotions." The journalist compares Trzasklaski to the Swedish film director Lasse Hallström, who gained international recognition with the 1985 film My Life as a Dog, for which he was nominated for Academy Awards for writing and directing. "Just like What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News and The Cider House Rules, Trzasklaski’s Polish films have a similar style, a similar temperature of emotions and deal with one overarching topic."
The filmmaker’s 2002 feature debut, Edi, was criticised by some for being too emotional and praised by others for providing viewers with authentic feelings. Edi brought Trzaskalski awards including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, an award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and the Warsaw IFF Grand Prix. His second film, Master, won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Miami Film Festival in 2006.
One of many issues dividing Włodek and Paweł is music, and it also brings them together. "Music is the food of family-bonding," as the critic Young writes in the Hollywood Reporter. Paweł performs in the world’s prestigious music halls as a distinguished pianist, Włodek on the other hand, used to perform as a clarinetist. They disagree on their approaches to art. For Paweł, music halls are temples and music a mystery for the chosen few. Włodek stands up for egalitarianism and for playing to bring joy to people. In the final scene, Paweł starts believing his father was right all along. Włodek is fascinated by jazz, and is played by the legendary jazzman Michał Urbaniak. Neil Young writes,
..the chief selling-point internationally is the presence of Polish jazz luminary Michał Urbaniak in what's effectively his first big-screen acting assignment at the age of 69. Based in the U.S. for nearly three decades now, the violin virtuouso played with seminal film-score composer Krzysztof Komeda's quintet in the early sixties and guested on Miles Davis' 1985 album Tutu.
The critic Staszczyszyn also draws attention to the film’s cast. "Artur Żmijewski shows that acting in sitcoms for several years hasn’t affected his acting: Paweł is like a grumpy teenager savouring his own pain." He also applauds Urbaniak’s performance, noting that Włodek "has the charm of an impolite boy and the tiredness of an old man carrying with him a sense of guilt." Urbaniak, the jazz star, said during the Tofifest Festival that, "For many months after the filming I couldn’t stop being Włodek. To find myself again, I had to reach for the help of a psychiatrist." For his portrayal of Wlodek, Urbaniak was named Best Actor at the 16th International Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
The Hollywood Reporter is ambiguous about the style of My Father’s Bike. "Trzaskalski and his co-screenwriter Wojciech Lepianka lay on the life-lessons a touch thick at times," according to the review, "a sudden burst of fiery melodrama heralding a final act which features an unexpected, tear-jerking death and a credibility-stretching surprise revelation, and which ultimately rivals The Return of the King in terms of its excessively multiple endings." Polish critic Joanna Ostrowska judges the film’s "fairy tale like shots" negatively, calling them "rural and angelic". Writing for the Chicago Reader, Drew Hunt agrees: "the film spreads the schmaltz a little too thick and lacks the stylistic flourishes of Trzaskalski's Edi and The Master." The Hollywood Reporter article ends on a positive note, saying "My Father's Bike provides enough ups and downs along the way to make our time in the saddle worthwhile."
Trzaskalski's film, along with Marcin Krzyształowicz’s Manhunt, are the Polish films nominated for the most recognised festival dedicated to the art of cinematography and cinematographers, the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Plus Camerimage. The festival takes place in Bydgoszcz, Poland, between the 24th of November and 1st of December 2012. My Father's Bike received a standing ovation at the Polish Film Festival in Melbourne and at the International Film Festival in Busan, South Korea. Due to audience interest during the Polish Film Festival in America in November 2012, the Chicago festival added a screening to their programme.
In 2013, My Father’s Bike will appear at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Cinessonne Festival in France, the Montreal World Film Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The film opens across Poland on the 16th of November 2012.
November 2012 Golden Teeth Award awarded by the audience at the Polish Film Festival in America for most interesting movie.
- Mój rower / My Father’s Bike, Poland 2012. Directing: Piotr Trzaskalski, screenplay: Wojciech Lepianka, Piotr Trzaskalski, cinematography: Piotr Śliskowski, music: Wojciech Lemański, set design: Wojciech Żogała, costume design: Iwona Perlińska, editing: Cezary Kowalczuk,sound: Kamil Radziszewski, Wojciech Cwyk. Cast: Michał Urbaniak (Włodzimierz Starnawski), Artur Żmijewski (Paweł Starnawski), Krzysztof Chodorowski (Maciek Starnawski), Witold Dębicki, Anna Nehrebecka (Barbara Starnawska), Piotr Szczepanik, Marcin Tyrol, Maria Maj, Teresa Szmigiel-Pawłowska, Katarzyna Kwiatkowska, Urszula Bartosiewicz, Sawa Fałkowska, Alicja Topaczewska. Production: Federico Film, Co-production: TVN. Distribution: ITI Cinema. Running time: 90 min.
Sources: based on the article by Bartosz Staszczyszyn for culture.pl, Hollywood Reporter, Film New Europe, Classic Cinemas,
Editor: Marta Jazowska