Amidst the growing excitement surrounding Klara Kochańska’s Tenants, now seems an exciting time for female Polish filmmakers, and Katarzyna Kijek is no exception with her gorgeously surreal animation Debut, located in ŻubrOFFka’s Independent Competition selection. What a film it is too – made with the impressively prolific Studio Munka. It gives you real admiration for the passion and talent that drives animators to spend hours creating something so beautiful, often by themselves.
This movie can perhaps only be described as a reddish-blue dreamscape that morphs and unfolds into the imaginative ramblings on a struggling screenwriter who has writer’s block. As such, Debut becomes an exercise in procrasturbation that is quite glorious. At first, this free-form romp opens with a dreamy synth soundtrack, but soon you’re being bombarded by humdrum sounds from everyday life: a curtain whips open, a shower runs heavily, a stove bursts into life.
Immediately you’re thrown into an intense domestic space that wouldn’t be out of place in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. In this space lurks the writer, who rattles us through his daily routine in the form of a neurotic voice-over. This very male figure, with his thick, rusty red beard, has a voice not unlike one of the more fantastical 19th century Realists, and he observes his little world in a fastidiously fantastical stream of oddities.
In fact, the animation does seem quite bookish, making excellently amusing comparisons between the film’s protagonist and Proust, for example. But there are also wonderful lines about how the writer is “aiming for something Jarmuschian” and always ending up with “something more Hitchcock.” In short, there is a real conscious attempt by the animator to send up filmmakers’ self importance – a joke at Kijek’s own expense no doubt, but also a real well-deserved dig at masculine self-importance.
The animation style itself is semi-impressionistic, like Van Gogh and Patrick Caulfield teaming up to do their own collaborative take on Salvador Dali. Most beautiful is the way certain colours beam in Debut: red in particular jumps off the screen like we’re peeping into some kind of internalised Hades. And the fictional character sits right before us, as if we see him through his own computer screen – like a voyeuristic desktop documentary that stares into his own imagination.
Before long the procrastination kicks in, and we are whirled away into a flurry of mindless email and internet browsing. But in the fleeting moments where the writer falls back into the task at hand, his screenplays take us into new worlds of new visual splendour, and new colours rain down as if in a neon flood. These scenes are of the utmost dazzling beauty, and are also undeniably trippy. The world of the writing desk and a world of absolute fantasy merge, and one imagined plotline bleeds into another in a chain of free-association which is deliciously chaotic and bathetic.
Soon this world of self-reflexivity begins to spirals out of control, and the short descends into an almost jazz-like frenzy of improvisation and madness. It’s an insanity that is almost impossible not to enjoy and stands up to multiple viewings. If anything, it just leaves you wanting more. Good work, Kijek.