REVIEW: Sukienka [The Dress] [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 30 minutes
    Release Date: 2020 (Poland)
    Director(s): Tadeusz Lysiak
    Writer(s): Tadeusz Lysiak

Good different or bad different?

Sitting alone at a slot machine, Julka (Anna Dzieduszycka) feels the brunt of sometimes drunken and always insensitive remarks thrown her way by locals and out-of-towners alike. She’s a person of short stature due to dwarfism who has never left her hometown in Poland. At one point Julka speaks about staying not only because it’s where she grew up and where she’s worked as a motel maid for eight years, but also because she wants to make sure her fellow residents see her and learn the lesson that they will not defeat her no matter how hard they try. It’s a choice she obviously stands by, but that doesn’t make it any less lonely. Because staying ultimately stifles her opportunity for more. Maybe that’s all about to change.

Just as Julka confronts her reality as a virgin after watching yet another traditionally beautiful woman walking away with a crass man cracking jokes at her expense, writer/director Tadeusz Lysiak introduces Bogdan (Szymon Piotr Warszawski): a truck driver passing through who stares at her from across the room with a smile. She’s skeptical, of course. The assumption is that his attention is malicious like usual, but they meet the next day and share a cigarette over conversation that proves otherwise. He even tells her that he’ll be back in four days, setting a date for drinks that cannot help but get Julka excited for whatever may result. Friendship? Intimacy? Love? Her mind wanders through all the different glorious possibilities, her previous fears turning into anxiety-fueled hope.

At the center of that emotional whirlwind is her desire for a new outfit, hence Sukienka [The Dress]. This article of clothing reveals itself to be more than just that, though. It’s also protection—a means to allow herself a pathway towards “normalcy” insofar as the depictions of romance surrounding her on the beach, balcony, and casino floor. It exposes the resonant sense of inadequacy that she holds when comparing herself to those same people she strives to teach her lesson. But it’s also a façade. Her friend/co-worker Renata (Dorota Pomykala) may be married and a mother, but she’s also a victim of spousal abuse. Those attractive women laughing at dinner are often found crying in the night after what we assume is the same. Julka idolizes them anyway.

And so, we fear the worst while wishing for the best once the days disappear and the date looms upon the horizon. Will Bogdan be everything Julka needs him to be? Or will he prove yet another horrible creature simply interested in using and abusing the women he so dutifully ensnares? Lysiak does a good job holding the potential of these questions at bay for as long as he can before providing his answer, letting Dzieduszycka carry the action with a complex and conflicted performance desperate to not succumb to optimism despite wanting to believe in it so ardently. The result is a well-shot and well-acted drama flirting with miserabilism as it provides its unfortunate truth: our admiration for “beauty” too often only guarantees us pain.

courtesy of ShortsTV

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