A promising debut from director Damian Kocur, Bread and Salt is a fly-on-the-wall story of xenophobia that, for the most part, is highly effective. It doesn’t wholly stick the landing, but there are a lot of positives layered in throughout to know he has a strong career ahead.
When Tymek, a Warsaw Academy of Music student, returns to his hometown for the summer holidays, he gets involved in the conflict between the local youths and a group of foreigners. While also trying to ensure his younger brother escapes his seemingly predetermined life.
Life in a housing estate or a lower-income area forms you as an adolescent; you can be dragged down by the wrong type of people and venture into a world you never imagined for yourself. Or you can use that hardship to try and further yourself, be it academically, creatively or financially. Of course, there are also a multitude of other options that those have to endure, including just keeping yourself above water. But for those like Tymek, he has had the chance to get away from a hostile unconstructive environment to better their future.
A budding pianist, he has been given a positive environment to grow inside his mothers flat. Something a number of those he used to go to school were not so lucky to get. He may still be from a broken home, but his mother has made the upmost effort to ensure that her present, is not his future. That he will not follow the spiral that others in a similar socioeconomic situation end up in.
Interestingly Tymeks brother Jacek, could go down the route his brother has with the greatest of ease due to his own talents as a pianist. However, distractions have come his way in the form of his girlfriend and his friends, leading to many a bored evening abusing the newly opened kebab shop in the area. Kocur and fellow screenwriter Marta Konarzekska have perhaps gone a little heavy-handed with their depictions of what life is like for adolescents in these estates and how rife their racism is. Keeping this neutral tone within the story leaves us in a strange position as an audience. Usually, we have the film veer one way or the other. Instead, we are stuck helpless at what is happening before us.
Kocur’s decision to cast unprofessional actors is intriguing, and for the most part, it works well for Bread and Salt. When the group are together, you feel as if you are with them and that these moments are taken from true experiences. It is also wise that we are also placed with Tymek for his perspective, just distant and observant enough from the events not to get wrapped up in them but also present enough to stop what we see.
As they are brothers, the Bies are great together, and this allows for their interactions to feel as natural as possible. This becomes especially important when we see what direction the film goes down in the third act. Yet, as mentioned, we are in an awkward position throughout Bread and Salt; for we see little growth in our protagonist. We can assume that being back in his hometown has awoken pent-up frustrations of being from the area and how these thoughts and feelings still haven’t been able to be emotionally nor mentally grappled with in his young years. However, the story stutters of Tymek being passive and only growing in small incremental fractions.
A lot will be said about whether its abrupt ending works for Bread and Salt or not. For the most part, it does, but it does feel as if it is the film’s weakest element as if we were pushed into this position and found no other avenue to end the movie. Regardless, there is a striking amount of talent present here, and the natural style of filmmaking works to its advantage.
Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2023 takes place in venues across London 9 March – 27 April.
For further information and tickets: https://kinoteka.org.uk/
Other reviews from the festival so far!
Woman on the Roof
The Hamlet Syndrome
Bread and Salt
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