It Looks Pretty from a Distance
Directed by Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal
Wednesday, March 28 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of New Directors/New Films
There isn't much dialogue in the Polish film It Looks Pretty From a Distance, but the relatively few lines aim to dredge up uncomfortable truths about family life in the heat-punished, dirt-poor backwater where the film is set. "When father stops working, we'll sell him for scrap, too," says one brother to another, after they ravenously strip a car on their ramshackle lot; "if she's coming home, it'll be in a coffin," says a member of the family after its matriarch, suffering from dementia, is unfeelingly packed off to some institutional hell—in other words, maybe the only place on earth worse than the house from which she's been forcibly removed. A scene in which the topic of the "people drowned in our river" during the war (not to mention the title) tips the proceedings toward something resembling wide-angle national-historical commentary.
Co-directors Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal (the latter is a well-known painter) pursue the atmosphere of pitilessness to such an extreme, and tell their story in such a disorienting way (the film revolves around the figure of Pawel, who flies the coop after his girlfriend moves in to the family home), that It Looks Pretty makes for a thoroughly exhausting 77 minutes. But as a deconstruction of the notion of the bucolic (as it pertains to this shithole, at least), the film is occasionally inspired. The Sasnals shoot many landscapes through a nauseating heat-distortion gauze. In the film's most memorable sequence, the villagers' directionless malice suddenly fastens itself upon a single structure, as they ransack Pawel's house in the middle of the night, frantically hastening its going to seed.