Culture

Polish director Jan Komasa’s new film offers a poignant social commentary

A new Polish film is sending shock waves through the film industry – and (just like these TV shows and films we highlight elsewhere this weekend) is now available on a number of streaming services. 

The film, Sala samobójców: Hejter, from Polish director Jam Komasa, offers a timely exploration into the mechanisms of hate, virtual reality and politics in what has been dubbed as a new cyber thriller mixed with a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. 

The plot follows the story of Tomek, a law student at the University of Warsaw who has recently been expelled for plagiarism. Hiding this from his benefactors, the Krasucki family, he continues to receive their financial support while undertaking a job at a marketing agency. The agency specialises as a kind of ‘troll farm’ manufacturing the online spread of hate speech and disinformation. Often commissioned by wealthy companies and individuals, the agency’s destructiveness has tangible and tragic effects to the lives of teen-idols, stars and politicians. 

By now, the plot has already stirred up striking parallels to the current cyber discourse playing out at the hands of the powerful, linking to the idea of a ‘hyperreality’, in which the online sphere presents itself as a simulation of reality to a hyperbolic and detached degree. The film aptly shows the dangers of cyber networks and social media, particularly the ease to which people are willing to ‘troll’ while hiding behind the keyboard, detached from the actual harm they are causing. 

Sala samobójców: Hejter stretches the limits of social and political commentary. The plot proceeds to detail the candidacy of a politician, Paweł Rudnicki, who becomes a victim of this online hate, eventually culminating in his assassination.

The last wrap up of the set poignantly finished one month before the tragic assassination of Gdansk mayor Paweł Adamowicz in January 2019. This merger of fiction with reality was not necessarily coincidental, but rather an extrapolation of the symptoms of hate, animosity and fear within a society that ultimately drew the same conclusions in reality. 

Director Komasa brilliantly explores this complex and devastating phenomena that serves as a mirror to Polish society. In a fascinating and unpredictable script, he points out the ‘errors’ within the nation, the idea of the ‘Warsaw elite’, irrational nazism, patho-intelligence and the polarising notion of Us and Them. However, these themes are not unique to Poland, and it would be doing the film a disservice to limit them to such a commentary. This animosity can be seen online and in reality the world over, a trend which Mr Komasa attempts to warn us against, showing the heartbreaking destruction and the havoc it can wreak within any society. A commentary on some and a warning to others. 

The film is the second of a series, following on from his 2011 success Sala samobójców. Despite winning awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Sala samobójców fails to achieve the mature, nuanced commentary that its sequel does, often appearing kitschy. Sala samobójców: Hejter hence shows a development not only of plot, but of Mr Komasa’s film making expertise and a promising sign of what’s to come from the Oscar-nominated director. 

Premiering in cinemas on March 6, the film proved twice as popular as its predecessor in its first opening weekend. However, the rising danger of Covid-19 cut in-person screenings short as prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki banned mass gatherings within museums, cinemas, theatres and clubs on March 12. The film was hence moved online to the streaming service Player.pl on March 18 for a similar price as charged in cinemas, and from March 25 will be available at Vod.pl. An innovation that many in the film industry will be continuing to make in the coming weeks.

So far, the film is gaining traction, and many positive reviews. More importantly, it is prompting discussions of the current threats to information, personal freedoms and democracy. 

It is well worth a watch.