KVIFF 2018 Review: ‘Fugue’ an Intriguing Polish Mystery

KVIFF 2018 Review: ‘Fugue’ an Intriguing Polish Mystery

A woman suffering from amnesia spends two years wandering the streets of Warsaw before reconnecting with the family she doesn’t remember in Fugue (Fuga), a new Polish mystery from director Agnieszka Smoczynska (2015’s The Lure) screened at the 2018 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Exactly what Alicja (Gabriela Muskala) has been doing in Warsaw over that time is left to our imagination, but she emerges an ill-tempered, street smart woman covered in bruises who opens the film in the hospital after a violent confrontation with a police officer.

Case worker Michal (Piotr Skiba) gives her two options: go to prison, or appear on a TV talk show dedicated to her case in the hopes that someone watching will recognize her. And within minutes of appearing on the show, someone calls in who does: a man claiming to be her father. (‘Case closed,’ the TV host immediately declares, though I would’ve appreciated at least a little background work.) 

Of course, Alicja - whose real name, she discovers, is Kinga - doesn’t recognize her family at all. And she doesn’t appear to be anything like the housewife who they knew two years ago. 

“I never thought I’d see the day when I didn’t recognize my own daughter,” her mother (Halina Rasiakówna) tells her.

“Back at you, Mom,” Alicja replies. 

But her biggest test will come in dealing with husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlot) and her young son Daniel (Iwo Rajski), who is now being cared for by her former best friend, Ewa (Malgorzata Buczkowska). Alicja is only staying with them for a week in order to obtain her identity papers, she tells herself, but will something stir within her to reconnect with her family?

Throughout Fugue, there are three questions that hook us in to a compelling narrative: why did Kinga leave her family? Why didn’t they try to find her? And what, exactly, has she been doing in Warsaw for the past two years?

While the third question is effectively left unanswered, Fugue feels fit to wrap up the mysteries surrounding Kinga’s disappearance in a neat little package; it all makes sense, but comes at the cost of the active storyline when the film stops dead in its tracks around at the climax to give us 15 minutes of exposition. 

At first mystifying, then captivating, and ultimately a little frustrating, Fugue works best as an unconventional relationship drama, and a little less so as a mystery. No matter what we learn about Kinga’s disappearance, she’s still a changed woman, and it’s this aspect of story - where does she go next? - that holds the most interest. 

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska made waves a few years back with the surreal horror-comedy The Lure, about a pair of mermaid sisters who are adopted into a cabaret. Fugue is much more conventional in its narrative but crafted with the same sure hand; it may be a slight disappointment given Smoczynska’s previous film, but confirms her status among Poland’s top young filmmakers.

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