71st Cannes Film Festival: Fugue Review

Agnieszka Smoczynska has already made her mark with her feature debut The Lure, which was awarded with the Golden Lion for the best debut in her native country, Poland. On top of that, the film was recognized overseas and received the Special Jury Prize for “a unique artistic vision and design” at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The Lure won various awards in the USA and Europe, and it was also added to the prestigious The Criterion Collection. While Smoczynska’s debut film represented the best kind of cinematic experience, one that tells the story primarily through the use of form, her new work Fugue wows with a gripping story of a woman who, after losing her memory, finds herself on a journey of self-discovery, the film tackling the subjects of motherhood and the connected cultural stigma.

Alicja (Gabriela Muskala: Hatred, These Daughters of Mine) is considered a person from nowhere; she does not remember who she is, where she came from and whether she has a family. She has no memory, no past; but what she does have is the present life that she built for herself, with a new identity, in Warsaw. One day, she ends up in hospital, where she is looked after by a doctor called Michal (Piotr Skiba: The Lure); he diagnoses her with the dissociative fugue disorder, which temporarily causes memory loss.

Michal decides to find her family at all costs and goes on national TV to search for the woman’s relatives. Alicja is recognized by her father (Zbigniew Walerys); she promptly returns to her home, a place that is now unknown to her, and the place where everyone calls her Kinga. To make matters worse, the people close to her have expectations that Alicja is not willing to fulfill; she now has duties to perform as a wife, and as a mother to a 5-year-old Daniel (Iwo Rajski). Meanwhile, while she was gone, her husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat: Kamerdyner, Amok) made a life for himself and his son; in his and Daniel’s mind, Kinga has ‘died’. With the protagonist slowly regaining her memory and trying to fit into the life she barely remembers, her two personas – Alicja and Kinga – start to clash; one wishes for herself to be a good mother, but the other self ‘screams’ for freedom. Is it possible for the family to go back to normal? Can a person regain the  feelings they lost?


The character of Alicja was inspired by a true story, which was later turned into the script written by Gabriela Muskala, a renowned stage and film actress, who also portrays Alicja in Fugue. Muskala’s writing style is distinctive, clear and leaves no gaps in the narrative; the transparent crossing between what is expected of a woman and what is desired by her is cleverly outlined in the story. It is compelling, since it shows how difficult it is to deal with the traditional social opinions, according to which the natural calling of every healthy woman should be motherhood. But is it? What about having a free choice as a woman? It sends a message that society should learn that motherhood should be perceived as a decision of an individual, and not as an obligation.

With the great script came the great direction by Agnieszka Smoczynska; she handled Muskala’s screenplay very well. Strongly inspired by Aleksandra Urban, a Polish painter, whose work is often a very personal journey into the world of memories, fantasies and dreams, and American photographers Didonato, Evelyn Benicova and Cristina Coral, who put the notion of woman at the core of their art, Smoczynska transferred that inspiration into the film, putting Alicja’s character as the focal point, focusing also on the subjects of the nature of individuality and the desire of personal freedom. The film gives rise to the questions on the amount of influence the society ought to have on our lives and our decision-making, and how we should really think for ourselves rather than allow others to think for us.


Apart from the strong narrative, the cinematography by Jakub Kijowski (Floating Skyscrapers, The Lure) is sublime, his camera work undoubtedly adding depth to the entire film composition. Also, truly great acting performances are rare in modern cinema, but Gabriela Muskala proves that they still exist; her performance is bold, brave and throughout inquisitive; having said that, every single actor delivered, including the young Iwo Rajski.

2018 has been a good year for Polish cinema so far. First, Malgorzata Szumowska was awarded with the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for Mug, Loving Vincent stormed the world with Academy Award, Golden Globe and Bafta nominations, and now Pawel Pawlikowski wowed the audience and critics at the 71th Cannes Film Festival with his black and white Cold War. It is high time for Agnieszka to make her way to the podium herself – she proved how outstanding her work is with Fugue being yet another intriguing feature from the young Polish filmmaker.


Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © MD4 Production Company

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