Floating Skyscrapers is described by its director Tomasz Wasilewski as the first LGBT Polish film, which makes the film itself as taboo-breaking as its main characters themselves, who struggle to assert their desires, and their right to express them, in a society that is unceasingly hostile to this. Wasilewski's second feature, receiving its world premiere at Tribeca this year, enlivens its familiar coming-out story with interesting architecturally designed details, an intriguing approach to sound design, and a visual motif (as hinted at in the title) that at times recalls Tsai Ming-liang's similarly water-based imagery.
The narrative centers mostly on Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), a young man who has been training for 15 years to be a champion swimmer. While he undeniably has talent, as his coach constantly reminds him, Kuba is often distracted and seemingly unmotivated. Kuba is also very much in the closet, indulging himself in anonymous sex encounters with other men in bathroom stalls, but assiduously hiding this part of himself from the rest of the world. Two of the people he keeps this from are the two women he lives with: his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) and his mother Ewa (Katarzyna Herman), who resents Sylwia's presence in the home and seems to have an unhealthy attachment to her son, whom she insists give her regular back scrubbings in the bathtub.
Kuba successfully keeps up appearances until he meets Michal (Bartosz Gelner), while being bored out of his mind at an art gallery opening. The two men are almost instantly attracted to one another; Michal is much more open about his sexuality and doesn't hide his interest in Kuba. This attraction is so strong that Sylwia - who already has some inklings of Kuba's true nature - can't help but pick up on it. However, she refuses to acknowledge this fairly obvious truth. Meanwhile, Michal has his own family problems, especially with his father, who refuses to accept or even acknowledge his son's homosexuality, unlike Michal's mother who has accepted it. Michal's father doesn't even respond to Michal's blurted-out announcement at dinner one night that he's gay, reacting with stony silence and an attempt to change the subject.
Kuba begins spending a lot more time with Michal, neglecting his swimming training, and inspired by Michal to be more willing to accept and openly act on his own desires. This brings about much opposition from Sylwia, who becomes more jealous and resentful of Michal's increasingly frequent presence in Kuba's life, and from Kuba's mother who won't even so much as entertain the idea that her son is gay. They then attempt to force Kuba to conform with a more societally-accepted lifestyle, leading to a tragic conclusion.
Wasilewski's story of coming out and society's opposition to gays will be very familiar to those of us in the States, but in the more repressed society represented in this film, the feelings here are much more charged, and much more feels at stake. The looming, overwhelmingly oppressive structures of buildings, and the loud sounds of rushing cars speeding on the highway, seem to overpower the characters, and become a potent metaphor for the outside world's constant repression of personal desires. The water imagery constantly flowing throughout the film is also allusively metaphorical, representing desires hidden beneath the surface that, while unseen, are no less transformative on the lives of those above.
Floating Skyscrapers has two more screenings at Tribeca, on April 26, 8:30pm and April 27, 2:30pm. For more information, visit the Tribeca Film Festival's website.
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