The Last Family (Ostatnia Rodzina)
An odd but fascinating take on the life of Polish surrealist painter Zdzisław Beksiński
The Last Family, an accomplished and confident feature film from Polish director Jan P. Matuszyński, looks at the last 28 years in the life of painter Zdzisław Beksiński, who from 1977 to 2005, lived in a Soviet-era apartment block in Warsaw with his wife Zofia and both of their mothers, painting his surrealist canvases while listening to classical music. Throughout most of this period their son Tomasz lived by himself in a nearby highrise, and a primary focus of the film is the relationship between Tomasz and his parents, who struggle at times to deal with their son's depression and volatility.
The film is anchored by a pair of strong performances: Andrzej Seweryn as Beksiński, and Dawid Ogrodnik as his son Tomasz, who, in real life, despite battles with depression, was a popular Polish radio presenter, DJ, and music journalist.
Almost all of the action of the film takes place within the walls of the Beksiński apartment, yet the effect is intimate rather than claustrophobic. Beksiński's indiosyncratic obsession with recording the minutiae of his life on audiotape, in still photographs, and later: on videotape, is presented as if this were a completely ordinary activity, as much a part of "normal" life as talking on the phone or preparing meals. Over the years we see the walls of Beksiński's studio becoming increasingly dense with this archive of the ordinary, and apparently this material informed the shape and content of Matuszyński's film.
Slowly the years continue on in endless sequence, with only the subtlest of clues to indicate the gradual passage of time: the gradual greying of Beksiński's hair; an occasional timestamp visible in the lower left corner of the video camera's screen. Towards the end of the film this inexorable flow is punctuated by a sequence of what might be described as ordinary tragedies: the deaths of both Beksiński's and Zofia's mothers, Zofia's death from an aneurysm, and Tomasz's death by suicide at the age of 41, events which leave Beksiński living by himself, alone in the apartment with his wall of the recorded past.
The end, when it comes, is shocking and comes without any warning, the camera presenting the film's violent denouement in a prolonged static shot from which it is difficult to look away.
You can watch a trailer for the film here.
There is one more VIFF screening of The Last Family at 6:00 p.m. October 9th, 2016, at The Cinematheque.