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The Wedding Day (Wesele)

Humorous beats of debauchery at a wedding offsets the visceral memories of ethnic cleansing in Poland - plays in the Official Competition section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12-28th November.


Polish director, Wojciech Smarzowski’s The Wedding Day (Wesele), centres on morally bankrupt Ryszard (Robert Wieckiewicz), who should only be concerned with his daughter, Kasia’s (Michalina Labacz) big day. However, with a business vulnerable to financial collapse, and a blackmailer extorting him over compromising videos of what goes on at his pig farm, he’s distracted. As the debauched celebrations unfold, Ryszard’s father Antoni (Ryszard Ronczewski) remembers the persecution and murder of Jews in the Second World War, and his love affair with a young Jewish woman.

The past rarely rests in peace, nor should it be allowed to when violent events create generational trauma. The Nazi persecution of the Jews in the Second World War is something that haunts civilised humanity, exposing the darkest nature of man. Smarzowski, with a reputation for controversy, reminds us of the horrors that were perpetrated by the Jewish pogroms in the Eastern European countries, that the opening text tells us were inspired by the German Death Squads.

To describe The Wedding Day as an uncomfortable experience is to downplay the upsetting imagery it exposes its audience to. The director is never gratuitous, he treats the material with respect, giving us an insight into the xenophobic violence.

A thought that has always struck me is how with age, this horrific chapter becomes more unbelievable. I’m not saying that I don’t believe it happened, instead unbelievable in the sense that I struggle to reckon with such a capacity for cruelty. Smarzowski presents visceral images that deepens this despair.

As I come to write this review, it occurs to me how the past relates to our present day. The UK continues to pursue a nationalistic agenda and America elected a White Supremacist in Donald Trump, who exploited divisions in American society. Much of the world lives under patriarchal and misogynistic traditions, and there’s a palpable xenophobia towards other cultures. The division and hate, the fuel for our shadow complex to inflict suffering still exists. We should not forget, pre and post-WW2, genocide has been a part of human civilisation.

Space is created to ease this unsettling part of the story, embracing lighter comedic tones along side the debauched antics of the wedding party. It lends the drama a humorous energy, but the shadow of the past is never far away, and Ryszard, his wife Ela (Agata Kulesza) and the newly weds, are a portrait of repressed misery.

Smarzowski’s skill is to not rudimentary cut between past and present, instead he bleeds the two into one another. We see Antoni as an old man amidst the horrors of the past, and the young boy appears in the present day. Antoni is still the young man in an adult body. An evocative expression of the story, that latches onto the audience’s empathy, is realising the sights and sounds a generation has carried with them. It’s difficult for one’s focus not to drift and try to comprehend the capacity for such cruelty as Jews are burned in a barn, as we witness men, women and young people complicit in the violence. Inescapable also is the danger of man’s interpretation of religion and application of ideology, that victimises by identifying people as “the other.”

Absent are the extreme images of the past, but the adversarial social, cultural and political rhetoric is still present in our contemporary world. We have not liberated ourselves from our capacity for extreme persecution – it still beats in us. Patriarchal traditions and authoritarianism, continue to deny people their basic human rights. The director suggests the racism and hate that still exists towards Jews and people of colour, and ideas of white supremacy between some of the wedding guests. The humorous beats aside, Smarzowski’s film is deeply unsettling for anyone sensitive to hateful rhetoric.

An interesting observation in The Wedding Day, is how we are simultaneously haunted by the past and ignorant of it. Within this idea the director weaves a criticism of capitalism, which is an ignorant and carnivorous force. Ryszard is told that his pig farm is built on the site of genocide by his father, but he’s indifferent. It’s difficult to reason with the ontological truth that we habitually move forward, driven by our survival instinct. It addresses how we ritualise acknowledgement of past trauma through art, education and social acts of remembrance. What’s troubling is how the cries and screams fall silent outside of these brief moments.

The Wedding Day (Wesele) plays in the Official Competition section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Paul Risker - 26-11-2021

While technically an English-based film critic and interviewer, Paul shows his political disgruntlement towards his homeland by identifying instead as a European writer. You’ll often find him agree...

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