Fugue Gabriela MuskalaYear: 2018
Director(s): Agnieszka Smoczynska
Writer(s): Gabriela Muskala
Region of Origin: Poland
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
35mm, Color, 102 mins

Synopsis: A woman with amnesia is reunited with her family but struggles to reintegrate. (Source)

After setting the scene ablaze with her arthouse horror musical, The Lure, Agnieszka Smoczynska has returned with Fugue. As a followup, this is a complete about-face from her debut stunner, eschewing glittery musical numbers and the grotesque for a portrait of deep psychological trauma. Needless to say, Smoczynska’s follow-up is every bit as arresting as what’s come before, this time amplifying the horrors of domesticity with sprinkles of surrealism. The film also expands on ideas that she excels at, exploring societal gender norms, expectation and perception. In addition, writer/star Gabriela Muskala carries the film with ferocity, drawing us into its mystery with tortured humanity and an inescapable confrontation of primal fears.

Two years after her disappearance, Alicja (Gabriela Muskala) is found during an altercation with the authorities. Suffering from amnesia, she doesn’t know who she is, but is given a chance to appear on television. The hope is that someone might recognize her. A caller instantly reveals himself as her father, reuniting Alicija with a husband named Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat), and son, Daniel (Iwo Rajski). This is far from a happy ending, however. Alicja, who is revealed to be named Kinga, sees her family as strangers. Torn between a life of independence and familial roles she no longer recognizes, she weighs personal desires with foreign responsibilities. As the truth to her disappearance comes into focus, an impossible choice comes into play.

At the core of Smoczynska’s film, is a character study that questions an increasingly blurry barrier between sane and insane. Smoczynska carefully pulls on a fine thread, unraveling the sanity of her protagonist amidst a dense mystery. It’s interesting to see how the fragility of our identities are laid bare, and how much they rely on memory – not just ours, but those around us. Stripped of these traits and removed from the familiar, would we still choose to be the same person? Despite the film’s dreamlike pace, Alicja/Kinga’s story never feels slow, but like a labyrinthian riddle that grows more fascinating with every reveal. Smoczynska’s deft command of internal and external tension eventually comes to a conclusion that feels honest and unpredictable. On every level, this is understated, psychological horror at its best, and it comes from a very relatable place.

Fugue afi review Gabriela Muskala Lukasz SimlatThe cast, in particular Muskala’s exposed performance, gives the film its razor sharp focus, bringing to life intangible ideas. With Muskala, Alicja/Kinga is truly multi-faceted, waging an inner war between two sides of the same coin. To see how Muskala manifests the disparate ideas that make up her character’s fractured mind, is worth the viewing alone. As Alicja/Kinga herself learns more about what her past means for her future, Muskala makes her someone we want to know more about. Opposite, Lukasz Simlat bounces off of Muskala with genuine chemistry and understated nuance. Together, the pair form a bond that feels lived-in, fleshing out each other’s characters without having to say much. They also ground the story and bring a warmth to something that oozes with subtle dread.

Fugue gnaws at our brains with its portrait of a broken woman stuck at a crossroads. It’s also got a mesmerizing quandary that doesn’t have simple answer. Alicja/Kinga brings a side to this story that we rarely see, and is given the empathy and complexity she deserves. Twisting the familiar into something new, Smoczynska upholds the importance of a woman’s agency amidst society and at home. In turn, the film cements Smoczynska as an artist with a lot to say, and a voice that makes us want to listen. With its deeply personal story, heartfelt performances, and an affecting view of mental illness, Smoczynska’s film grabs hold of us on a deeper level, and it’s very hard to shake.