surrealist artist Zdzisław Beksiński’s paintings were Giger-esque but his
habits were downright Nixonian. He taped a lot. Far more than his family realized.
As a result, he left behind a treasure trove of source material for his bio-pic
treatment. Home is where the dysfunction is for the Beksińskis, as viewers
witness in no uncertain terms throughout Jan P. Matuszynski’s painfully
faithful drama, The Last Family (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
senior Beksiński is afraid of spiders, which further adds to his eccentricity.
His son Tomasz is essentially afraid of life, which makes him a constant burden
on his parents. Old Zdzisław is inclined to take a more “tough love” approach,
but his wife Zofia coddles and indulges him. Although never a household name, Beksiński
was already famous enough in the 1970s to lead a life of relative comfort.
However, his fateful meeting with Paris-based art journalist and gallery agent
Piotr Dmochowski takes him to a much higher level of remuneration.
also facilitated Tomasz’s career as a DJ and pop culture commentator by
schlepping over the latest music and VHS releases from the West. Unfortunately,
Tomasz’s severe depression coupled with what might have been mild schizophrenia
remain a constant source of anxiety for his long-suffering parents.
are some enormously discomfiting scenes in Last
Family, especially when you consider Beksiński probably left behind a tape
of each meltdown in question happening in real life. Matuszynski focuses
exclusively on the family angst, barely noting the revolutionary macro changes
sweeping across Poland. Knowing what they are ignoring, we can get a sense of
how distracting and wearying it must have been for the Beksińskis to constantly
worry about Tomasz’s fragile state of mind, assuming viewers have that a priori
knowledge. However, many might not necessarily understand the stigma attached
to mental illness during the Communist era and the dubious treatment options (including
sanitariums, whose primary function was the interrogation of political
prisoners), which surely made their situation worse.
the primary cast-members are all apparently scary dead-ringers for the Beksińskis.
Andrzej Seweryn makes the patriarch’s self-absorbed prickliness strangely human
and forgivable. Frankly, Dawid Ogrodnik’s Tomasz is such a face-palm inducing
disaster area, most viewers will quickly align themselves with Team Zdzisław. His
implosions are so convincing, they become excruciating to watch. Poor
Aleksandra Konieczna is stuck playing the thankless sainted mother role, but
Andrzej Chyra (recognizable from Katyń
and Strike) adroitly tethers the film
to reality as Dmochowski, the slightly mercenary audience surrogate.
Well, okay then. Maybe your family isn’t so bad
after all. Arguably, Matuszynski’s voyeuristic take on Beksiński family values
is everything the laughable Ossage County
was cracked up to be, succeeding where the Meryl Streep vehicle
face-planted, because it is not undermined by embarrassingly hammy, cornball
performances. Rather, Matuszynski and company take the audience to some
disturbingly true places. Recommended for those who take their coffee and their
family drama bitter and black, The Last
Family screens this Thursday (3/16) at MoMA and Saturday (3/18) at the
Walter Reade, as part ND/NF 2017.
Labels: ND/NF '17, Polish Films, Zdzislaw Beksinski