Leave No Traces – Film Review
by Frank L.
Directed by Jan Matuszynski
Writers – Kaja Krawczyk-Wnuk(screenplay), Cezary Lazarewicz(based on a reportage by)
Stars – Tomasz Zietek, Sandra Korzeniak, Jacek Braciak
This film is set in Warsaw in 1983 when two youths who are enjoying themselves in a public space are hauled in by police. One of them, Grezgorz Przemyk, is beaten up by the police and the other, Jurek Popiel (Thomas Zietek), witnesses it. Przemyk subsequently dies in hospital. Jurek cannot forget what he has seen. Przemyk’s mother Barbara Sadowska (Sandra Korzeniak), who is a dissident poet and a critic of the regime, is determined that those responsible for her son’s death are held accountable. She is up against the power of the Polish state.
The state has various stratagems to cover up its crime. One is to portray the two youths as good-for-nothing junkies. Another is to lay the blame on the two ambulance paramedics who drove the injured Przemyk to the hospital. A further one is to intimidate Jurek, the only witness, by bringing pressure on his family. General Czeslaw Kiszczak (Robert Wieckiewicz) the chief of the police from the beginning will not permit his men to be held responsible. The State will leave no stone unturned to achieve this end. The whole panoply of the State is ultimately employed to ensure that this false premise is the one that prevails.
It is a film which lasts two hours and forty minutes. There are lengthy and quite unnecessary scenes of the meetings of bureaucrats as the various arms of the State come under pressure to be complicit. For the most part, the apparatchiks seem to know what is required and succumb but there is in the prosecutor’s office an official who is not so easily circumvented. This creates at least a semblance of decency. However, the organised intrigue and experience of the State knows how to protect itself and how to get its way.
The acting throughout is impressive, particularly Zietek as the unfortunate Jurek Popiel as the pressures on him increase and that of Korzeniak as Prezemyk’s bereaved and quietly angry mother, as she battles on trying to achieve justice for her son. Wieckiewicz manages as the chief of police to personify evil. It is an unsettling, powerful performance.
This film shows the powerlessness of an individual when the full power of the State is posed against them. It can happen regrettably in any State but it is more likely to happen in a State without a free press and an independent judiciary. Despite the film’s considerable length, it is a film and topic worth exploring.