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March 10, 2023



Agnieszka Smoczynska - 2018

In the seven years since the release of The Lure, I had somehow lost track of director Agnieszka Smoczynska's career. I really liked her debut feature with the killer mermaid. Until I bothered to check her filmography before seeing Fugue, her second film, it had slipped past me that Smoczynska has also directed the recent The Silent Twins. Fugue is more reality based, yet it also has hints of the fantastic.

In this case, fugue is used as a medical term describing a temporary dissociative state of amnesia with the person discovered in an unexpected place, with a different sense of identity. Parts of the narrative might be described as creating the cinematic equivalent to the musical definition of a fugue with several shots breaking the narrative to eventually provide a flashback to the opening scene introducing the woman who calls herself Alicja.

Alicja is first seen waling in a dark tunnel, on what are revealed to be subway tracks. She is disheveled and grimy, but also well dressed. Two years later, Alicia is in a police station where she signs a form with the initials K.S., indicating that she has some memory of her true identity. She appears on a television program where she is interviewed with the hopes that someone can identify her. Reunited with a family she does not recognize, Alicia is in almost constant conflict with the people who knew her as Kinga. Unlike the more conventional stories of people recovering from amnesia, Fugue poses the question of what makes for a true sense of identity, and if a marked change in personality is any less valid than how that person may have lived and behaved previously.

Smoczynska repeatedly uses dark, constricted spaces, from the tunnel in the film's opening to scenes taking place driving through country roads at night. Bright, but claustrophobic, is the shot of Alicja seen through the shaft of an MRI machine. It is here we have the most dreamlike imagery of the brain scan animated with bursts of colors and flowers. There is also a nightmarish image of Alicja appearing to pull herself out of the ground at night in the woods, explaining her appearance in the opening scene.

It should be noted that the screenplay was by Gabriela Muskala, who also stars as Alicja. Muskala's inspiration was also a television show with a woman unable to identify her husband and son. Muskala's performance is the kind that would be unimaginable for most English language actresses.

Fugue begins its U.S. theatrical release in Los Angeles, with New York City to follow at the end of the month.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 10, 2023 07:16 AM