Friday 30 November 2018

"Plagi Breslau" (Guardian 30/11/18)

Plagi Breslau ***
Dir: Patryk Vega. With: Malgorzata Kozuchowska, Daria Widawska, Andrzej Grabowski, Maria Dejmek. 97 mins. Cert: 15

Patryk Vega is the Polish writer-director whose muscular commercial ventures – spin-offs from TV hit Pitbull, medical procedural Botoks – have become appointment viewing for diaspora audiences and thus regular guests in the UK Top 10. Not for nothing does the logo for his production shingle Vega Investments feature a charging bull. His latest – translating, somewhat ominously, as The Plagues of Breslau – is a flat-out serial killer thriller, ninety blood-spattered minutes that make those carefully designed Scandie crime dramas seem newly fussy and wussy. It opens with the graphic autopsy of an abattoir worker who was branded before being sewn alive into suffocating cow hide, the sole visual relief being a cutaway to the morgue’s greasy helix of flypaper. Everything that follows is similarly strong meat.

It has, however, been infused with an eccentric-to-distinctive local flavour. Where Western variations would generally feature chiselled, photogenic protagonists, Vega’s cops all appear to have been found sleeping rough in their cars. Lead detective Helena Rus (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) might resemble an Eastern Jane Tennison were she not perpetually tired and crying, and operating beneath an undercut even Lisbeth Salander might think a little unforgiving. The superior parachuting in to oversee her investigation (Daria Widawska) arrives not in a powersuit, but wearing sweatpants and a sour expression; she does possess unexpected physiotherapy talents, though, and vital intel that suggests the killer is following Frederick the Great’s model in purging Silesia of its predators and degenerates.

It’s not always original, as Helena’s pursuit by a tabloid TV reporter would suggest. It’s not always entirely convincing, either. That hell-for-leather pace whisks us past the implausibility of a killer multitasking as a historian and blacksmith, but some of Vega’s dashed-off grue isn’t quite up to snuff. Yet his location work (spooking the PM at a speedway meet, making murderous use of a cycle path) is unusual and striking, and this verve in staging makes for a perversely enjoyable watch. Offering a setpiece every ten minutes, a twist every thirty, it’s pure pulp – an airport novel condensed into movie form – but Vega knows how to sell it, and there are pearls of wisdom amid the nastiness. You’ll flinch, you’ll squirm, you’ll learn how to increase your survival chances should you be doused in gasoline and set alight. 

Plagi Breslau opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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