EIFF 2017: Amok – International Premiere
Director: Katarzyna Adamik
Starring: Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Lukasz Simlat, Zofia Wichlacz
Run Time: 108mins
“Amok” is based on the bizarre true story of Krystian Bala who in 2007 was sentenced to 25 years in jail for the murder of Dariusz Janiszewski a case that went unsolved for several years until a novel Bala wrote showed a fictionalised version of events that had evidence in it that it would seem only the real killer would know. The story caused a sensation in Poland as well as appearing in newspapers all over the world including an investigative article in The New Yorker.
Like most films based on a true story it is hard to tell how much of what happens in the film actually happened in real life. This is not too much of problem though as the movie is never presented as a piece of work that is looking to give a meticulous construction of the crime or a forensic breakdown of the investigation, instead it wants to delve into the psychological portrait of a sociopath. The other main theme is, much like say Natural Born Killers, is it wants to examine the cultural thirst for fame and adulation at all and any cost.
In this film’s version on events the police’s cold case’s line is tipped off about the identity of a murderer as a confession can apparently be found in the pages of a novel called “Amok”. The new inspector in town, Jacek Sokolski (Lukasz Simlat), decides to reopen the cold case based on this information and get his team to start combing through the book, which is a non-linear novel using the Burroughs cut-up technique which as the inspector says “Is about a young couple in Paris who drink, fuck and kill”, for clues to a confession.
While as mentioned there is a dollop of “Natural Born Killers” in the mix there is also a heavy dose of “Seven” in there too as the main thrust of the movie is the psychological cat-and-mouse game between Krystian (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) and Jacek, also it is nearly always raining, although unlike that film where it always feels like John Doe has the upper hand the sands shift here and it is sometimes hard to tell who is playing who. For the most part Krystian plays everything off with a chilling impassivity.
The part is very well played by Kosciukiewicz who is both charming and creepy. Also the way the character frequently and rather grandly quotes Nietzsche as well as holding forth on the likes of Baudrillard’s simulacrum theory the part could have easily fall into a self-parodic portrait of an intellectual psychopath but the actor keeps it on just the right side of the line.
Simlat also plays his part well as Jacek despite the fact the character is a classic crime cliché. He is after a hangdog inspector with a heavy drink problem, a propensity to obsess over cases and a tragic backstory ohs daughter drowning, but again the actor manages to keep the role just on the right side of believable throughout.
Maybe somewhat oddly for a film directed by a woman the treatment of the female characters is somewhat problematic and even the main female character, Bala’s ex-wife Zofia (Zofia Wichlacz) is made somewhat peripheral. Although sometimes it is hard to know how much films dealing with misogyny are themselves misogynistic.
The director Adamik has made the film look great visually though with a number scenes having a dark noir-ish style too them. Also there is a lack of visual clues that we have segued into a fantasy or flashback which gives the film a woozy dream-like quality at times.
Verdict: Despite the odd cliché and rehash of thriller tropes this is a taut, disturbing psychological thriller that grips from start to finish.
Words by Scott Murphy