It would be easy to simply call Urszula Antoniak’s immigrant experience drama Beyond Words timely. While a true statement, it does not effectively convey the complex layers that serve as the film’s foundation. Similar to its protagonist, Michael (Jakub Gierszal), there is a deceptiveness to the how Antoniak’s story is presented. On the surface, the film can be viewed as a traditional father and son tale. Diving deeper though reveals a stirring commentary on identity and privilege.
Michael, a Polish born young man working as lawyer in Germany, has carved out a good life for himself. With his slicked back hair and sharp suits, he has earned the respect and friendship of his boss (Christian Löber). His comfortable life is interrupted with the emergence of Stanislaw (Andrzej Chyra), the man who claims to be his estranged father. Skeptical of Stanislaw’s motives, but longing for that fatherly figure in his life, Michael cautiously begins to build a bond with his father. Part of this bonding not only means coming to terms with the past, but also his Polish heritage.
Offering a unique exploration of identity and cultural heritage, Antoniak crafts a film that festers in the mind. Presented in beautiful black and white cinematography, Beyond Words forces Michael, and the audience, to question if there is any real difference, aside from skin colour, between the young lawyer and the African immigrants he looks down on. Antoniak effectively hits this point home in the way she juxtaposes Michael arrogance with the sullenness of a Polish bartender (Justyna Wasilewska) who he has a romantic interest in. Beyond Words is a stirring conversation starter, one that reminds viewers that privilege and acceptance is not necessarily inherent just because one’s skin colour reflects the majority.
Saturday, September 9, 7 PM, Scotiabank 14
Monday, September 11, 7 PM, Scotiabank 8
Sunday, September 17, 6:30 PM, Scotiabank 17
Tickets can be purchased at the TIFF website.