Saturday, 28 June 2014

Floating Skyscrapers

Best described as a subtitled, Polish, independent, gay-interest drama, about a swimmer, that opens with an oral sex scene in a public toilet, Floating Skyscrapers would be easy to dismiss as another indie film treading the same old water. But is there substance under its film festival-pleasing surface? I dove in to take a look.

The 2013 film tells the story of Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), a handsome, twenty-something Polish swimmer living with his mum (Katarzyna Herman) and girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz). Kuba’s got a lot going for him but feels unfulfilled. His relationship with Sylwia, though loving, feels strained, and Kuba spends his off time cruising the swimming pool locker room for meaningless gay encounters.

One evening, after being dragged to an art exhibition by Sylwia, Kuba meets another handsome Pole (innuendo not intended) called Michał (Bartosz Gelner) and the two quickly hit it off. What follows is a slice of life drama about finding your feet as a gay man living in Poland, a country where homophobia is apparently still rife – last year, one of its former presidents said gay politicians should be made to “sit behind a wall” at the rear of the parliament building while another, in 2007, suggested homosexuality would lead to the end of humanity as we know it.

Indeed, Kuba and Michał come up against homophobia a few times in the film, meaning Sylwia isn’t the only reason they have to explore their budding romance in secret. The couple’s family relationships are also incorporated into the plot, with both sets of parents struggling (or flat out refusing) to accept their sons’ sexuality.

The film is beautifully shot (to the point where any single frame would look good as a poster), with a muted colour palette and some mesmerising underwater photography. It’s peppered with nudity and semi-explicit sex scenes, which do feel gratuitous at times… not least because the film’s only straight sex scene plays out in all its gory, pube-licking detail (it’s exactly as unerotic as it sounds) while the gay sex – arguably far more important in the context of the film – is cropped and hidden behind the usual Hollywood smoke and mirrors.

And the story’s told in a grim, harrowing way, like a too-earnest student film. Lingering shots, wordless conversations, and unsympathetic characters abound, making the film’s one and a half hours feel like a slog. There are only so many times the “strained home life” card can be played before you start wishing the characters would sit down and do something about it. And the film’s ending, though clearly intended to be heartrending, fails to pack an emotional punch. There’s no discernable character development or big, emotional climax to be had, here – just credits that feel like they’ve come 15 minutes too early.

All in all, Floating Skyscrapers just doesn’t feel like it has enough to say. And maybe that’s OK, all things considered. It was the first Polish movie to tackle LGBT issues head-on like this; if it inspires debate, or change, or even just more gay-interest Polish cinema, surely it can only be considered a success. As a film, though, to be sat and watched and enjoyed, it’s far less successful – and its appealing visuals aren’t enough to make up for its disappointing plot and bland ending.

Floating Skyscrapers gets 2/5.


Mike Lee

Floating Skyscrapers at CeX

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