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Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2019 Review - MY FRIEND THE POLISH GIRL

my friend the polish girl review
A filmmaker attempts to document the life of a Polish immigrant in London.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek

Starring: Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Friedman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Max Davis, Darren Rose

my friend the polish girl poster




Here’s the thing: when I’m reviewing a film, I always try my best to not read anything around it prior to watching it. No press release, no critical takes, not even the imdb listing. Oh yeah, I’m all about keeping it real. However, a little while into My Friend the Polish Girl, a pseudo-documentary purporting to be shot by an aspiring American filmmaker and taking its subject as a Polish model/actress who lives in the less salubrious corners of London, such was the skewed authenticity of the presentation that I had to Break My One Rule and check the veracity of what I was watching. Turns out, of course, that My Friend the Polish Girl is a fiction, co-directed and written by Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek, starring Emma Friedman-Cohen as the privileged filmmaker Katie and Aneta Piotrowska as the titular character Alicja, and it certainly had me fooled.

my friend the polish girl review


If I’d stuck at the earnestly jejune narrative, which opens ominously with a plaintive title card championing the "immigrants, the people disposed of, post-Brexit" (oh dear), and continues with Katie proselytising that she wants to make something "true and honest" (shades of Jack Horner in Boogie Nights) before settling upon the clearly damaged (and utterly photogenic) Alicja for her very foreignness, I would have eventually clued in that My Friend the Polish Girl was a mockumentary because a little way in we flash forward to elliptical and graphic sequences of its eponymous heroine lying on a bathroom floor with her wrists slashed wide open. Thus, the film announces its fictionality and also imbues a sense of dread across proceedings (or perhaps, and this is something I thought about quite a lot during My Friend the Polish Girl, I’ve just been trained by umpteen found-footage horrors to expect the worst: the damage done by Devil’s Due, et al).




In doing so, My Friend the Polish Girl shifts from being a patronising think piece about the supposed plight of a Polish lady living in perhaps the most cosmopolitan city ever, to being a sly satire on these sorts of things: a lampoon of a more benign Vice.com documentary or something you’d see on Buzzfeed. You know the type: twentysomething with a camera and cash on the hip makes would-be-socially-relevant content with a viral friendly message that everyone can get behind. From the off, Katie doesn’t really have an idea what she wants to make, and in fact, via her clueless voiceover, she talks about "provoking a situation" and laments that Katie doesn’t seem "to have any Polish friends" (um, you’re in London, and why would Polish people just hang out with other Poles?). Throughout the film, in delicious mockery, meaningless hashtags (#elusive #beautiful #painful) pop up along with non-diegetic emojis, which serve to highlight the simplistic approaches of Katie, and her paramount sense of entitlement.

my friend the polish girl review


As My Friend the Polish Girl goes on, we get intimations that Alicja could be a cam-girl (a situation that seems to go right over Katie’s head), and she flirts her way on to the cast of a low-budget Brit gangster flick (the sort of tax-dodge vodder that I’ve reviewed tens of times, so I had to laugh at how acutely observed this sequence was). Throughout it all, Katie objectifies Alicja, ironically seeing her as ‘other’, and sexualising her with her frame. In search of a narrative thread, out of the blue Katie asks the actress mad things like, "do you feel accepted by British society?" and whether she enjoys performing oral sex. When she, apropos of nothing much, asks Alicja if she "was abused as a child," you can hear the mediated hope in her voice. We get lingering shots of Piotrowska’s bum and cleavage, which is more revealing of Katie’s closeted affections for her subject more than anything else (including a shot of her sitting on the toilet with her knickers around her ankles having a wee - at least, I hope she was just having a wee…). "What if I could change Alicja’s life?," she wonders, in the pious manner of an Emma Woodhouse…

my friend the polish girl review


The levels of perception within My Friend the Polish Girl are thrillingly playful. Is this the male gaze (the co-directors are a fella and a woman), or a lesbian look? The fascinating narrative within the narrative, which forces us to ask the questions which Katie is too self-involved to bother with (who is Alicja, what does she do for money, what drugs is she obviously on?), jostles with the cruelly authentic satire of the approach. And there are genuinely funny moments too, like when at a memorial for a cancer victim some oddbod girl pipes up with an acapella song while the other mourners clumsily sip their drinks: an incandescent cringe. Towards the end, perhaps bored of Katie’s mundane questions, Alicja decides to do this insanely asexual go-go dance to Radiohead (!), causing me to spray my cosmo everywhere. With so much going on, the film does lose some of its focus and a lot of its bite in the last act, but such minor stumbles can’t prevent My Friend the Polish Girl from being one of the most thoughtful and stimulating films of the year.


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