The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinemas] - LEAVE NO TRACES | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Cinemas] - LEAVE NO TRACES

leave no traces review
When an activist's son is killed by the police, the Polish state attempts to silence the only witness.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jan P. Matuszynski

Starring: Tomasz Ziętek, Sandra KorzeniakMateusz Górski, Agnieszka Grochowska, Tomasz Kot, Robert Wieckiewicz, Jacek Braciak

leave no traces poster

A dramatization of true events, Leave No Traces' title refers to the police practice of striking parts of the body that won’t leave any noticeable bruising. It's something cops around the world have been doing for decades, but in this particular case it's the Poland of 1983, where cops have been particularly conditioned to believe they're above the law.

leave no traces review

The victim is Grzegorz Przemyk (Mateusz Gorski), the teenage son of poet/anti-communist politician Barbara Sadowska (Sandra Korzeniak). He's picked up along with his friend Jurek Popiel (Tomasz Ziętek) by a pair of cops who take a dislike to their long hair. Brought to a local police station, the pair are badly beaten. Grzegorz is so severely injured that he dies from his wounds the following day.


As the only witness, Jurek finds himself a wanted man. Under normal circumstances he would likely be "disappeared" but the story leaks to the BBC World Service. Wishing to put on a good face for the world, the Polish authorities set about clearing the cops of any wrongdoing while framing a pair of ambulance orderlies for the killing. Meanwhile pressure is put on Jurek's parents to convince their son to retract his story or have their lives destroyed.

leave no traces review

Leave No Traces opens in energetic fashion with a one-take tour through the commune-like apartment Barbara shares with various sympathisers. Things move swiftly as we witness the central crime and the various players are introduced. But by the halfway point of this near three hour movie, fatigue begins to set in. There are too many scenes that simply repeat the same point that's already been made several times prior, and the sprawling cast of characters could have benefitted from some amalgamation for the sake of tighter storytelling. What starts out like a gripping conspiracy thriller morphs into something resembling a prestige TV mini-series. As such, it may work better viewed at home and broken into more easily digestible chunks.

leave no traces review

That said, the film contains some stellar performances from its ensemble cast. In its best moments it's a reminder of a time when Hollywood would commit to telling such stories. But that ensemble is also the film's biggest stumbling block, as the story moves back and forth between characters so often that we never really get to know who these people are, simply what they represent. Perhaps the most fascinating characters are Jerzy's parents, who find themselves weighing the cost of supporting their son with facing a monolithic state that could crush them like insects. Had the movie refined its focus on this tortured couple, played brilliantly by Jacek Braciak and Agnieszka Grochowska, it  may have made for a far more involving and relatably human watch.

Leave No Traces
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 10th.



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