Filip – Review

Filip NetflixThe tagline on the poster for Michal Kwiecinski’s Filip reads “Scoundrel? Hero? Victim?” and that perfectly sums up the tone and style of this film. At times sumptuous and erotic, at others violent and brutal, it’s a very different kind of World War Two story.

Based Leopold Tyrmand’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, the film centres around the titular Filip (Eryk Kulm), a Polish Jew masquerading as French forced labour in Frankfurt. As a waiter in the slightly faded opulence of the Park Hotel, he enacts a plan called “fuck and humiliate” in which he seduces the wives and girlfriends of visiting Nazis, only to cast them aside once they reveal their feelings for him. It’s a risky (and, let’s face it, slightly bizarre) form of revenge, as both Filip and his prey could face fatal consequences.

There are several elements of the film that would remind you of Bohumil Hrabal’s novel I Served the King of England. But Kwiecinski’s film is anything but absurdist in its approach. Instead, we are treated to an increasing feeling of tension, with Robert Koch’s soundtrack throbbing like a quickening pulse throughout. Michal Sobocinski’s cinematography oscillates between dreary grey city scapes and dream-like sequences of war and sex.

Although there are several recognisable hallmarks of a World War Two movie, Filip does somehow feel different. Beyond a glimpse of the Warsaw ghetto or a thrilling air raid sequence, this is – in a way – a film very distanced from the realities of war. The champagne continues to pop within the hotel and afternoon tea is served with fresh cream and cake. The waiters all wear immaculate uniforms and enjoy the perks of a Sunday dip in the pool. Yet the threat of “punishment” or death never leaves them. It’s this slightly uncanny contrast that fuels Filip’s character development.

And it is Eryk Kulm who takes us on Filip’s journey. He is wrapped up in escape plans, desperation, loathing and lust. He’s such a conflicting character – an obvious case for empathy yet seemingly nonchalant about the fate of his fellow waiters. He’s extremely charming and yet deeply broken; the frequent exercise scenes a testament to his desire to be fit enough – mentally and physically – to survive the war. His very identity is a life-threatening secret yet his desire to stand up and be counted consistently puts him at risk. Kulm delivers an utterly enthralling performance. His physicality is imposing and he runs the gamut of war-time emotions in a way that is neither self-indulgent nor hyperbolic. It feels like a very intimate performance.

Filip NetflixBeyond Filip, there is a moral ambiguity that pervades every character, with no one firmly committed to either light or shadow. The supporting cast – because this really is Kulm’s gig – are all equally compelling. Both Victor Meutelet as Pierre and Joseph Altamura as Francesco, in particular, stand out. Their easy charm belies a visceral need for revenge, culminating in two of the most appalling scenes of the film. Gabriel Raab as the sleazy Baumuller is every inch the kind of Nazi creep you hope for in these types of films – his murderous stare always appearing to be seconds away from unleashing violence. Caroline Hartig turns in a solid performance as the aloof but lonely Lisa whilst Sandra Drzymalska is reminiscent of a classic 40s femme fatale.

At just under two hours’ run time, Kwiecinski takes his time with Filip’s story arc and with the overall unfolding of the war. There is no rush to cram in an entire six years’ worth of story. Instead, the film triumphs in smaller, intense moments to help us understand both the characters and their situations. For this reason, some may find Filip hard to settle into. However, it is every bit as compelling and shocking as the more bombastic, battle-led war films.

Filip benefits from an incredible central performance – one which you can only hope leads Eryk Kulm to more regular work. It’s a deeply personal, conflicting, character-led drama which never loses its edge. Danger echoes around every hotel corridor; every look is laced with tension. Currently working the festival circuit, it’s extremely deserving of your time.

Filip is now screening on Netflix.

Mary Munoz
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