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In his fifteenth year of training, aspiring champion swimmer Kuba lives a normal, uneventful life with his girlfriend, Sylwia, a waitress at his mother's, Ewa house. He happily switches back and forth from good sex with his girlfriend to the occasional back rub his mother craves. The relationship between the two women is tense, Ewa urges him to have Sylwia move out of the apartment. He has also been growing more curious about some of the boys who have gay sex at the gym. At a gallery opening one night, he is totally bored and out of the place. While smoking a joint, he meets Michal and they strike up a conversation to Sylwia's delight. Sylwia picks up on his fascination, but Kuba has her heart. She keeps her feelings to herself, as from one day to the next Kuba puts Michal in the middle of his life with her. Kuba drops his training program and begins to dream of another life. His mother is incredulous and urges him to stay on track. Meanwhile, Michal takes on the task of convincing ...
Tomasz Wasilewski has publicly declared this to be Poland's first gay themed film which is not true. In Poland at least the gay film genre is fledgling, but this film follows in the wake of more than half a dozen gay themed Polish films made in recent years. To insist on such a declaration betrays a failure to grasp the tradition of the gay themed film he has honoured himself with the task of contributing to.
Wasilewski's film displays good acting with a cast who are sympathetically engaging. Cinematically, the visuality is sophisticated, with obvious preoccupations with the elemental essences of spatiality and landscape. But this photographic style threatens to bow under the weight of it's own vacuity where style rules over substance once one considers the terrible treatment Wasilewski consigns upon his chosen subject matter, the gay themed film. Wasilewski can be seen on Youtube to say that his gay character is something new but what we in fact encounter is a much unwanted throw-back to the days when gays in cinema were always the unfortunate, the unfulfilled, the castigated, the bad, mad or murdered.
Eastern Europe is slowly emerging from a traumatised, isolated, abused and culturally starved recent past and at the time of this film's release Poland is dominated by a reactionary conservatism fuelled by a right wing anti-gay middle European Catholicism. But are things really this bad for gay people in Poland's capital ? Are options among the urban set so limited ? In fact there is much evidence that this is not the case. But more to the point, even if it were, then more so than ever, the film maker has in some sense a duty to use their imagination to elevate the gay themed film to a higher and better place. But this is far from what occurs in Floating Skyscrapers.
Despite initial indications of a touching and successful gay romance, Wasilewski freefalls somewhat inexplicably into negative clichés which one had been led to believe were consigned to the vaults of cinematic history. Hail the return of the tedium of the ultra magnified maladjusted gay, the threatened morally indignant heterosexuals, the traumatised parents, the proverbial slaps across the face, the long stoney silences, the angst, the intense sense of heavy burden of the oh-no-he's-gay! problematics and finally the inevitable gay bashing. If Wasilewski thinks this is something new then he needs a stiff pointing back to seminal gay discourses of the 1980s which exposed these negatively limiting stereotypes and were well aired in popular gay documentaries and books such as The Celluloid Closet. This is old hat.
The extent to which Wasilewski fails to grasp his subject continues. If there is something new about this character it is the possibility that he is in fact not a gay character but a bisexual character. Certainly he lives out all the primary psychological dilemmas that define the trials of true bisexuality. Bisexuality is one of the emergent sexual minorities of the era in terms of recent understanding and long held misconceptions finally being overturned. As a portrayal of the obstacles of bisexual fulfilment the story serves well. But Wasilewski falls into uninformed handling here, fixing the identity upon the axis of gay, while inferring notions about fluid sexualities which are currently thought to be wrong and damaging to understanding both the emotional needs of gay and true bisexuality.
Aside from the failure to handle the thematic politics of sexual minorities, somewhat incongruous with the level of prejudice portrayed, the film's characters hang out in art galleries, smoking dope, listen to cool music, socialise in underground urban gatherings, wear trendy clothing, have IKEA filled apartments and own all the latest gadgets which means crucially access to the internet. So how does Wasilewski imagine that the gay subject could receive such a unanimously negative reception among this set of people ? The only concession one could grant Wasilewski is that he is at odds to portray a Poland which may have had a material recovery but devoid of any tangible recent social revolution, it's social mindset remains effectively in the dark ages. Again there is evidence that this is not necessarily the case in Poland's capital. But also, once again if reality in Poland were so, then would it not be in some sense his duty to offer a different vision, a different way of thinking to the Polish ?
Unfortunately Wasilewski does not do this and what we have here is an example of social attitudes presented as cultural immaturity largely because the prejudice portrayed is omnipotent. What's more, the degree of prejudice remains both unexamined & unchallenged but instead accepted and perhaps even gratuitously celebrated. In Youtube interviews, Wasilewski fails to grasp the extent of his negative treatment of the gay subject and perhaps any ownership of his own internalised homophobia which his plot-point choices betray. Though publicly celebrated for creating a gay themed film, he has in fact unforgivably created a homophobic film which revels in the manifestation of gay victimhood and lacks the courage to establish a sustainable vision for sexual minorities in Polish cinema. Further more he plays into the hands of Poland's political right by confirming their beliefs that sexual minorities are unstable, disruptive and as the perpetrator of the unacceptable only ever to be perceived as a victim to be mistrusted. The extent of the failure of responsibility in this work runs deep and that is a shame where obvious cinematographic sophistication can be seen and a very good cast was assembled. Wasilewski needs to consider the charges laid here carefully and perhaps not back away from the subject but make another film which corrects his wrongs and enlightens the territory which this work fails to do.
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