Montreal Nouveau 2020 Review: KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN, An Animated and Discordant Purgatory
In one scene in Mariusz Wilczyński’s Kill It and Leave This Town, characters are taking a long train ride, telling stories in fits and starts, as the vehicle crosses what seems like an endless parallel universe populated by bird people as well as humans, a landscape of both eerie light and empty darkness, which feels as if it might never end, and yet you are compelled to remain.
Such reflects the feeling of much of the film. Told with deceptively complex hand-drawn animation that is both sparse and severe, what feels like snippets of overheard conversation is in fact Wilczyński’s dramatization of childhood memories. 15 years in the making, it moves from bleak to bizarre to banal and back again, faithfully told as a reflection of the Polish filmmaker's fading memories: this is not meant as a perfect recreation, but how he remembers his childhood, with its inacurracies and exagerrations.
It begins with a pinprick of a red light, almost imperceptible, until it is revealed as the red glow of a cigarette. We watch what seems to be a typical day in this household, as mother is left at home while father takes son to school. Surrounded by factories, the only colour being traffic lights, cigarettes, sometimes blood, the child memories are moments of conversation overheard: a woman desperate to buy bread before the tram leaves, an old woman looking for her dog, two pathologists making small talk during an autopsy; perhaps that autopsy was a visual insertion to a conversation, and it's certainly hard to imagine a child in an autopsy room - is this something of artistic license? Was the boy imagining this happening when he heard this conservation? How do we move from that to a train ride, a day at the beach, a dance on a boat?
Artists of all kinds are usually encouraged to use the specific to express the universal; this film might be the most singular exception to that, in that it is so specific as to be frequently incomprehensible and deeply disturbing. This is not a negative criticism; we can't always be confortable when watching someone's story, and more importantly, they need to tell it on their own terms. This is deep in the years of communist Poland, when decades of pressure from above meant the cracks in society had become craters, and even the smallest kindness between strangers or family was hard to come by; or at least, that is how Wilczyński seems to remember it.
Indeed, it might be said that this is Wilczyński's version of purgatory. The child wandering the proverbial minefield, occasionally finding a flower, while Tadeusz Nalepa's dissonant and discordant electronic score, while the minimalist, black and white animation (with the the occasional splash of colour) is works almost against itself, as the competition between memory, dream, and nightmare is almost violent to take the predominant space.
Kill It and Leave This Town is an extraordinary film in every sense - its animation belies its frequent cruelty, and yet there is a quiet melancholy, moments of contentment found in the observation after years of distance. Watching it might take a bit of mental preparation, but it's a worthwhile (if difficult) journey.