Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2021: "The In-Laws (Tesciowie)"

Michael Hayward

It's hard to believe that The In-Laws, a wonderful, Vantablack-dark comedy from Poland, is Kuba Michalczuk's first feature film. He's obviously learned a lot about his craft through osmosis (his first job was at a video-rental store) and by directing commercials (over 300 since 2010).

The film, which had its world premiere at VIFF 2021, opens with an unbroken, 16-minute tracking shot: Andrzej (The Queen’s Gambit’s Marcin Dorociński) and Malgorzata (Maja Ostaszewska), a well-off couple, are at the hotel which was to host a reception to celebrate the marriage of their son, Łukasz, to Weronika, the daughter of a working-class couple, Wanda (Izabela Kuna) and Tadeusz (Adam Woronowicz). One small wrinkle: Łukasz dumped his bride-to-be at the altar.

Hundreds of guests are scheduled to arrive at any minute, so Andrzej and Malgorzata fret, and smoke, and argue over what to do, wandering through the premises with the camera following: through the ballroom, with every table set (linen, crystal, candles), waiters hovering, and the band warming up on stage; through the busy kitchen, to the loading dock, where they continue to fret, and smoke, and argue. Then, without a break, the camera detours through the kitchen, where the staff discuss the unfolding disaster ("Never seen anything like this"; "Well, you're young") before returning to the bickering couple for more walkabout. It's a dazzling sequence, capable of standing with the all-time great tracking shots: like the one in Scorcese's Goodfellas, Ray Liotta bringing his date into the Copacabana through a back door, a corridor, a hectic kitchen, before they're escorted to a primo table front and centre, Henry Youngman about to begin his act.

As you might expect from such a setup, things in The In-Laws can only go from bad to worse, to even worse. Things do, and the only sensible response is to pour yourself a shot or three of vodka, strap yourself firmly in, and enjoy the ride. The In-Laws is a hilarious look at the divisions within Polish society—within any society, in fact: the gap between the rich and poor; between the younger generation and the old; as well as offering a glimpse of the secrets which are sometimes hidden within a marriage.

Watching The In-Laws, I thought I could see traces of the final segment in Wild Tales (2014), the hugely successful anthology film from Argentina. In the last of its six darkly comedic tales, another wedding reception goes badly wrong. If you were to place these two nightmare scenarios side by side, they might explain in part why so few couples nowadays choose big weddings, and prefer to elope instead.

The In-Laws can be streamed through the VIFF Connect app until the end of the festival. See here for more information on the film. You can also view a trailer for The In-Laws here (Polish only: no sub-titles!)



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