OBCE NIEBO || 2015, Poland || Drama || Directed by – Dariusz Gajewski / Written by – Dariusz Gajewski, Michal Godzig / Produced by – Dariusz Gajewski, Anna Malgorzata Kasinska, Robert Kijak, Kuba Kosma, Kaska Krosny, Anna Wasniewska-Gill / Music by – Marcin Masecki, Candelaria Saenz Valiente / Cinematography – Monika Lenczewska / Production design – Joanna Macha / Starring – Agnieszka Grochowska, Bartolomiej Topa, Barbara Kubiak / Running time: 107 mins.
Dariusz Gajewski’s latest film Strange Heaven tells the story of parents, Polish immigrants living in Sweden, who lose the custody of their child after she tells an innocent lie, which escalates into a situation where social services place her in the care of a foster family. The bulk of the narrative follows the parents as they undertake the painstaking process of getting their child back.
This family melodrama is full of tension and urgency. It wastes little time with the backstory, which is only hinted at, and focuses on its present timeframe. There is also some natural tension and frenzy added by the mixture of Polish, English and Swedish languages spoken throughout the film. Despite the similarities between the Swedish and Polish cultures being mentioned often in the film, to the point of feeling forced in order to drastically shift the attention away from their implications, the language barrier is still one of the elements that the director plays around with, and it is sometimes used actively and cleverly in the storyline.
Each of the characters is portrayed naturally, and they are shown to be far from perfect individuals. Upon entering the storyline, the foster family is given an equal amount of screen time as the natural parents of the child, which makes the child seem more helpless and vulnerable, as the grown ups debate on her future. But the film’s scope is widened to a more universal message of best intentions; how often having the best intentions in mind is not good enough and how sometimes they can lead to disastrous outcomes. The message is not necessarily restricted to families, but fit a wider array of institutions. In this case, the film takes shots at social services by showing them not so much as incompetent but as being obnoxiously self-righteous.
Nevertheless, this message might be lost on some viewers, as it seems far too broad and loose. As the film progresses, it even lessens the impact of Strange Heaven, and decreases its intimacy. For instance, there seems to be a scene missing where the parents of the child try to come to terms with their issues by having an interaction in which they confront the personal problems that may, indirectly, have led to this terrible situation in the first place. This makes the ending all the more bittersweet, but mostly without reason.
There are similar films that have played with similar topics that have been made in recent years. Namely, Hunt by Thomas Vinterberg also started with the innocent lie of a child. But its introspective nature made it far more troubling and its focused character development all the more powerful. Gajewski’s ambition simply does not translate as well in Strange Heaven, but remains interesting and gripping in its simpler and less distracted sequences dealing with true human emotions in a candid way. – 3/5