Given the strong resemblance of the actor playing the father to Dumała, Las, which offers a view of a father and son relationship in two time frames, may be taken for a strongly autobiographical film. Dumała, however, denies such an interpretation:
"I don't know if I wanted 'Las' to settle any accounts", he says in an interview for the portal www.wp.pl. "What I wanted was rather to share experience of the proximity of death. The crossing of the border. Being close to someone dying and sharing your feelings. But this is not an autobiographical film. It's more of a general refection on death through a situation which I have experienced and learned and which has touched me. I wanted to share it rather than showing my father, myself and our relationship. This area is purely fictional in my film."
The first sequence shows the son and father walking to the forest. The older man walks first, supporting himself with a stick. He stops every now and then to look carefully around as if he wanted to draw his son's attention to something. The son, a grown up man, behaves like a teenager, sneaking behind the father, staying behind, then pacing up again. There is a clear division of roles, with the father being the guide and the son a somewhat unruly student in the school of life. The son gets punished with a slap on the face, but when he hurts himself, the father painstakingly dresses the wound.
The photographs of the walk to the forest are interspersed with scenes taking place in an interior: the son, now an adult man, is looking after his bed-ridden, infirm father. He washes and feeds him, and listens to his requests. Does the son's devotion, his giving his time, come from feelings, though? There is more of a sense of duty: when he tells the father "embrace me!", the embrace does not convey feelings, but the practical need for a support when moving the father from the chair to the bed.
The camera's return to the forest walk explains why the relationship was so cold. The self-assured father does not allow the son to make his own steps. He enforces obedience rather than protects; forces to eat rather than feeds, and finally kills the son and burns the body on a pyre. On the other hand, he emphasizes his independence at every step, despite his deteriorating condition. When he is no longer there, the son lies down in the bed, taking the father's place. In the visionary final scene, the father is seen steering a boat sailing through wilderness. There is not a place for the son any more.
A more slashing criticism of the bringing up process would be hard to find in the Polish cinema. Wandering through the forest, the dominant father strips his son of independence with every step. He shapes him in his image to finally kill him and burn the vestiges of difference on a pyre. In the end, despite the son's dedication the father will remain deaf to his expectations and will stress his domination even at the final moment.
Dumała's film strikes with the precision with which it was made. Adam Sikora's refined photography blurs the border between reality and the screen world, between a feature and an animation. This is enhanced by expressive roles of Stanisław Brudny as the father and Mariusz Bonaszewski as the son, and by Paweł Szymański's penetrating music.
But the film's absolute value is the number of its possible interpretations. This is what Father Andrzej Luter wrote in a review for the magazine "Kino" (2/2010):
"Dumała forces us not to shy away from the most difficult issues because they will catch up with us sooner or later, anyway - and then our helplessness may push us into despair. Our family members should not die lonely. We will all face the challenge of their sickness and infirmness. It is inevitable. We may not have got along very well, they may have been both unkind and kind to us, they may have harmed us once, we may have had enough of them and may have run away from them, but now we are with them, because those who gave us life are dying. One day we too will come 'face to face' with finality. (...) A slice of our world with all its shameful episodes disappears, passes away with death. At the end of the film you see a bow of the boat with the silhouette of the deceased father on it. The boat is sailing with a clean, rapid current among the forest trees which seem reborn, too. Death changes us. We become more mature and purer."
Father Luter goes on to explain:
"This is my interpretation of 'Las'. Although the film has no dialogues - only a few sentences are said from the screen - it makes your imagination going. I am certain that others will see in it meanings which did not occur even to the director - unless subconsciously. Well, it is a measure of the value of a work when lives its own life, independent of the artist."
Las received the Special Jury Award at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival and the Photography Award at the Cuenca Film Festival.
- Las / The Forest. Poland 2009. Written, directed, animated and designed by Piotr Dumała; photography by Adam Sikora; animated photographs by Jan Ptasiński; music by Paweł Szymański; costumes by Dorota Kołodyńska; editor: Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk, Beata Liszewska; sound manager: Jacek Hamela. Starring: Stanisław Brudny (Father), Mariusz Bonaszewski (Son). Produced by Eureka Media, Andersa Street Art And Media. Co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, The Chimney Pot, Instytucja Filmowa Silesia-Film. Distribution: Gutek Film. Duration: 75 min. Released on 26th February 2010.
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, March 2010.