QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
The first ever album I bought was The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come From Me. Brummie Mike Skinner rapped about normal life — losing money, girlfriends, nights out — and wrapped it up into an epic story about trying to get yourself together. Rap music has always told stories, from “Children’s Story” to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”, but there is something particularly special about stretching that conceit over a larger narrative form while telling a story basically anyone could relate to.
That’s why Other People, despite its miserablist approach, provides such a pleasurable narrative experience, using hip-hop’s potential to paint a wide tapestry of contemporary Warsaw life. Its central protagonist, Kamil (Jacek Beler) is an aspiring rapper, living in an identikit apartment block in a city constantly blanketed in grey. His daily routine (avoiding the tram fare, stealing small items from the mall, getting wasted with his friends) is recounted in minute detail by a man (Sebastian Fabjański) with Jesus thorns and baseball cap, providing a deadpan one-man Greek chorus.
And if Mike Skinner was self-effacing in the way he played himself in something like “Fit But You Know It”, Beler’s Kamil is positively self-hating, unable to process his childhood or find any kind of meaning in his life. He doesn’t even have the beats for his raps. At least he contains some kind of sexual magnetism that allows him to sleep with both trophy housewife Iwona (Sonia Bohosiewicz) and shop worker Aneta (Magdalena Kolesnik). The questions is not so much who he will end up with, but will he end up being someone, subsumed by a giant, dark city, forbidding tower blocks, a lack of economic prospects and an endless proclivity for cannabis and vodka…
The film cannot be separated from its form, which allows for quick jumps between memory and present, character and perspective without feeling messy or in a rush. Adopted from the epic rap poem by Dorota Masłowska, it has a novelistic rhythm and perspective. Not everyone is particularly accomplished with their flow. No matter. Like the bad singers in Everyone Says I Love You (Woody Allen, 1996), or Mike Skinner himself sometimes, hip-hop is shown here to be more about personal expression than technical mastery. Everyone joins in: no matter whether they are on the tram or in the midst of coitus. The freewheeling nature of the raps are so well-integrated into the narrative it makes me want to see Terpínska take on a Goodfellas-style (Martin Scorsese, 1990) movie. She’ll certainly be able to find the right milieu.
If Aleksandra Terpińska’s previous short The Best Fireworks Ever (2017) — which literally told the dystopian story of Poland descending into civil war — felt overly critical of the direction the country is going in, Other People seems even more damning for being set in the present day. This is a world where people console themselves with consumerism, post fake lives on social media while feeling depressed, drown in never-ending debt and use sex, drugs and alcohol as temporary respite from the void. It should feel like a slog, but spurred on by razor-sharp editing and game performances, this film contains both great vitality and compassion in amidst its characters’ ugliness.
No one comes off well, especially Kamil in a particularly troublesome rubbishing of the #metoo movement, but no one is particularly dislikable either. They’re living in a world that’s dying while trying to find something, anything to hold onto. These Other People are certainly more normal than the so-called “normal people” of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Totally unflinching in her approach, Terpińska has delivered on the banal yet beautiful promise of The Streets nearly two decades later, delivering a polyphonic drama that entices as it repels.