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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Taking over the asylum ?

This is a Festival review of Sieniawka (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


6 October

This is a Festival review of Sieniawka (2013)

What can I say about Sieniawka (2013) that is not inherent in watching it, in sticking with it ? Put another way, anything that I say will be reductive or interpretative (or both)


I believe that I cannot review this film (this was its UK premiere) in any traditional way, even with a ‘spoiler’ warning, but that I just have to say what I know, consistent with not saying too much :


1. Just as Fulbourn Hospital is named after a village near Cambridge, so Sieniawka is a psychiatric unit named after its neighbouring town, and we see another place nearby, damaged by flooding, at the end of the film.

2. Director Marcin Malaszczak and I talked extensively during gaps in my schedule, when not simply socializing at the end of the day (and once some reviews had been written). Those who do not just read film reviews on this blog will know about an experience of working in mental-health advocacy.

3. Marcin’s film (I cannot call him by his surname) falls into three sections, of which the longest is filmed in Sieniawka and its grounds. I have already mentioned the last section, and Marcin seems to think that we need not see it as chronologically the final one, although how it is set up suggests that it may be.

4. In the Q&A, I referred to Mr Endon in Murphy and to other writings of Samuel Beckettt. In particular, in Watt there is a journey to Mr Knott’s house, a two-part stay there, and a departure, but the narrative is framed by Watt and Sam meeting and doing their best to converse in different ‘pavilions’ of some sort of establishment. Apparently, the likeness had been seen before, but had not informed the making of the film.

5. Some of the questioners wanted to declare what the figures seen in the first part of the film, or their actions, meant.

6. However, it had a clear provisionality to it, which, at best (and knowing that one was doing so), one could interpret. From the end (or earlier), then, one might make an inference about whose body is delivered where at the opening, but never be sure.

7. It does not follow from the agreement of the staff for filming to take place, or from gaining the trust of the residents, that filming them does not exploit them.

8. I am not saying that it does, but comments from some of the others were that witnessing the repetitive behaviour disturbed them, or that they did not see the need to continue watching the footage.

9. When Marcin and I talked about such institutions (the food being set out, and a watery soup ladled into bowls, did not look very inviting), he agreed that his film would be seen differently by someone as familiar with them as I, and that I probably ‘knew too much’.

10. The impression that I know that he intended to give was of a sort of microcosm, where the smoking room – and people’s efforts to ask others, who receive tobacco beyond a ration, to give them some – is a hub of activity.

11. I cannot endorse such a view when, here as at Fulbourn in recent history, there have been people there for 20 or 30 years : they are alive, but they do not have their own space or life, and how some of the staff were heard talking about restraining a ‘bastard’ who got violent was shockingly self centred.

12. We see some residents playing volleyball or handball, but with no ball. Maybe they are more clever than Marcin imagines, and are ironically putting on a show for the camera. At any rate, when someone serves, he has – as I asked at the Q&A – added in the noise of the ball being hit.

13. Apparently, the mosaic at the end of the film gives hope, whereas one viewer had found hope lacking (see paragraph 11, above).




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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