Agnieszka Smoczynska’s Daring and Brilliant Fugue

at Fantastic Fest, Austin
Review by Kristy Puchko

In 2016, Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska made a splash with her directorial debut The Lure, a heady horror-musical about man-eating mermaids. For her latest, Smoczynska has left behind the spectacle of blood, monsters, and burlesque numbers. But her biting brand of observational humor makes the daring drama Fugue a fitting and fantastic follow-up.

Written and starring Gabriela Muskala, Fugue follows woman through an unusual journey home. With a prim blond bob and a posh but strained trenchcoat, Kinga (Muskala) walked away from her cozy life in rural Poland, surfacing on the train tracks of Warsaw’s Central Railway with no memory of who she is. Two years later, she calls herself Alicja, favors a short, spiky brunette hairdo, skin-tight cheetah-print jeans, and a festering bad attitude. A brawl with a cop has her in hot water, but the court might go easy on her if she can be returned to the custody of her forgotten family. A TV appearance quickly solves that mystery. But as Alicja crashes back into the life of her long-lost husband and young son, she must uncover not only who she was but also what happened that caused her dissociative fugue.

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Gabriela Muskala in Fugue

Much like The Lure, Fugue dips its toe into several genres. Its premise is thriller, playing at the mystery of this marriage that went so off the rails that her husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat) never went looking for her. As these two old flames circle each other–with doubt and curiosity–sparks fly, igniting a fascinating but fragile romance. And caught up in all of it is the heart-breaking domestic drama of a young boy who doesn’t know how to handle this home-crashing stranger that people say is his mom. Amid weighted glances, feral sex scenes, and a guest bed booby-trapped with pushpins, Smoczynska also unfurls a tantalizing thread of satirical humor.

There’s an element of juicy rebellion to Alicja, who rejects the name, identity, home, and role the world insists is hers. Through smudged eyeliner and a scornful side-eye, she wilts her weepy mother, confounded spouse, and former co-worker. Her attitude is that of a teenager, righteously reckless. And through her, we see the lunacy of the puzzle-piece life her family would lock her back into. So she rebels in ways wild and hilarious. When her clothes go missing, she stands naked and defiant in the kitchen, a thick bush of out-and-nonchalant pubic hair mocking her parents’ frantic insistence to carry on with their cheery routine. But Fugue does not laugh at her audaciousness, instead contrasting how absurd so-called “normal” people behave. . .

To read the rest of this review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/agnieszka-smoczynskas-fugue/

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