The promising documentary by Leszek Dawid tells the story of Paktofonika, one of Poland's pioneer hip-hop collectives. In the process he merges biography with sociological observation to create an unique look at the struggle for success in a troubled environment.
By telling the tale of Paktofonika Leszek Dawid consciously enters a minefield. He knew about the traps that were hidden in the story of the famous musicians, the tragic death of the band-leader, the wild capitalism of the nineties, the Silesian housing projects and the lost young generation. In You Are God he successfully avoids moralising or overt praise and manages a fairly objective portrait of the group and its members. Thanks to this directorial discipline and artistic maturity the film is turning out to be one of the best movies made in Poland in the past few years. While the author of Ki and Bar na Viktorii addresses the issue of degenerate Polish capitalism of the post-transformation era, this theme is just a setting for a tale about people struggling with life, about artists, who have to risk their whole sensibility to find a way of talking to the world.
The movie's UK premiere took place at London's West End Cineworld Haymarket in September 2012 and it screened across the island through mid-October. It has already garnered notice of critics at The Guardian film blog, which weighed in on whether Jesteś Bogiem is the 8 Mile of Poland. The conclusion is overall that inevitably the film leaves a lot unsaid about the phenomenon with regard to foreign viewers who may crave more background on the scene
Poland's nostalgic nod on its early rap crews comes as part of a larger wave of looking back towards the communist past and finding little gems of novelty and amid the drab memories of the past. The big numbers at its opening weekend (370,000, making it the third-biggest opening in two decades) shows the local hunger for revisiting the beat-thumping past. Yet as Guardian bloggers find, the earnest attempt at recreating the spirit of the group and the volatile lives of its members isn't enough to capture the attention of viewers abroad or raise this film to the legendary ranks of Poland's cinema masters of decades past.
The blog remarks,
A hip-hop film from a former communist country could have added edgy notes to the accepted youth-culture movie blueprint: a hunger for post-communist self-expression more urgent than the standard rebel ethic, and a scepticism about the marketing and exploitation of "lifestyle choices". But, doggedly concentrating on an account that is for Paktofonika insiders only, rather than laying open the subject matter for an audience outside Poland, Jesteś Bogiem doesn't have that kind of awareness.
Over a decade ago, Piotr "Magik" Łuszcz, Wojciech "Fokus" Alszer and Sebastian "Rahim" Salbert, three young men from Mikołów and Katowice, changed the Polish music scene. Although their band Paktofonika existed only for a few years it became the voice of a generation at the turn of the 20th and 21st century. It started with passion. Two aspiring hip-hop artists decided to form a band. Rahim (Dawid Ogrodnik) and Fokus (Tomasz Schuchardt) liked to rhyme, write their own texts and make samples. They needed somebody else, someone with experience and charisma. That someone was Magik (Marcin Kowalczyk), a guy well-known for being a member of the popular band Kaliber 44. Not without problems they reached an understanding and soon began to give their first concerts. They quickly felt the bitter taste of defeat - they were used by their first manager and were left without any money or guidance. Still, they carried on. Thanks to Gustaw Zarzycki (Arkadiusz Jakubik) they managed to release an album. But that wasn't the end of their problems. In the reality of Polish capitalism they had to fight for survival and for the saving of their talents and sensibilities. Magik became a victim of this struggle – one day, he jumped out of the window of his apartment block.
The film would never have been created if not for Maciej Pisuk, author of a book about Paktofonika. For years he gathered information about the band, talked to Rahim and Fokus, interviewed Magik's family, friends and co-workers. With a finished screenplay he knocked on subsequent doors, but most of the producers weren't interested. So he published it in book form in 2008. The first edition sold 30,000 copies. Leszek Dawid learned about the history behind Paktofonika from reading Pisuk's book and decided to create a movie about the band.
At first we learn about Magik from accounts given by Rahim and Fokus. The two of them introduce us to the world of the Silesian projects and emerging hip-hop. Leszek Dawid, a great documentary film-maker, looks at this world with an eye of an unprejudiced spectator. He follows his characters in the same way he would enter their homes, to make a documentary about their lives. Thanks to this You Are God vibrates with internal tension, it displays an unusual truth. The grey, dirty cinematography by Michał Englert and Radosław Ładczuk strips the Silesian landscapes of the remnants of hope and Dawid's documentary observations merge with great acting.
It's not by chance that the three actors playing the Paktofonika members were distinguished at the last year's festival in Gdynia. Dawid Ogrodnik and Tomasz Schuchardt had to share the award for the best supporting role and Marcin Kowalczyk was chosen the best debutant. In You Are God they all show how great a potential they have, but they also keep in mind how important it is to prepare for a role extensively.
Before they stood in front of Leszek Dawid's camera, the young artists entered the world of hip-hop for a whole year: they composed their own songs in order to achieve a greater understanding of the characters of the story. The effect of their work is astounding: when we look at Fokus, Rahim and Magik from the movie, we don't even suspect that they are in fact actors playing musicians. Marcin Kowalczyk deserves to be praised exceptionally. The emotional intensity of this young actor makes his character - Magik - hypnotic and his story, although well-known, compelling.
You Are God is a precise and soulful movie. It's an utterly true vision of a lost generation, but not its group portrait. It's a moving tale about a great musician, which stays far from being a fan film. The author of Ki, in his second feature film, created a beautiful story about reality, which chokes, about a need for affection and about an artist, who by far surpasses his surroundings.
The movie's UK premiere took place at London's West End Cineworld Haymarket on September 19th 2012 and it screened across the island (in seven London cinema's, Birmingham, Glasgow, Dublin, Edinburgh, Southampton, Nottingham, Aberdeen, Bradford, Northampton, Cambridge, Bristol, Rugby, Bedford and Burton upon Trent). On October 14th the legendary hip hop group Pokahontaz featuring Rahim and Fokus performs at London's The Garage club.
- January 2013, Zbigniew Cybulski Award for Best Polish Actor of the Young Generation Award for Marcin Kowalczyk
- November 2012, best Director Award for Leszek Dawid at the 23rd Cottbus Film festival
- November 2012, three Złota Kaczka / Golden Duck Awards for Best Polish Film, Best Actor and Screenplay of the 2011/2012 season, given out by the readers of Film magazine
- Best Debut and Second Film Director, Best Professional Acting Debut and Best Actors in a Supporting Role at the Gdynia 2012 Gdynia Film Festival
- You Are God, Poland 2012. Directed by: Leszek Dawid, screenplay: Maciej Pisiuk, cinematography: Michał Englert, Radosław Ładczuk, music: Paktofonika, Wojciech Alszer, Sebastian Salbert, scenery: Katarzyna Sobańska, Marcel Sławiński, costumes: Agata Culak, edited by: Jarosław Kamiński, sound: Leszek Freund. Cast: Marcin Kowalczyk (Piotr Łuszcz "Magik"), Dawid Ogrodnik (Sebastian Salbert "Rahim"), Tomasz Schuchardt (Wojciech Alszer "Fokus"), Arkadiusz Jakubik (Gustaw Zarzycki), Katarzyna Wajda (Justyna Łuszcz, żona Piotra), Marcin dorociński, Przemysław Bluszcz, Halina Bednarz, Aleksandra Kusio, Mirosław Neinert, Piotr Nowak, Małgorzata Zajączkowska, Katarzyna Maria Zielińska. Produced by: Kadr Film Studio. Distributed by: Kino Świat. Runtime: 110 minutes. In cinemas from the 21st of September 2012.