IFFR 2013 Review: IXJANA Injects Giallo-like Color And Weirdness Into Film Noir.

(If I did THIS much sex, booze and drugs together on one evening: yep, unfortunately I'd forget stuff as well...)

Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski is no stranger to the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which even honored him a few years ago with a retrospective of his works. But this year it was his son Michal's turn to appear in the spotlight over here.

Together with his brother Józef he scored a bit of a cult-hit back in 1993, with their debut film The Hollow Men, and he now presented his second film Ixjana. Listed in the catalogue as a "Psychological thriller drama by the Skolimowksi Jr. brothers (which) does not shy away from the occult", it had me intrigued. So what did I think of it? Read on...


The Story:

Marek is a writer who hopes to get his big break at a party held by his publisher. Nervous and angry after an argument with his best friend Artur, he takes a dangerous mix of alcohol and drugs. But the evening goes well, and just before Marek blacks out, his book does get picked up for publishing, turning him into an instant success.

Three months later Marek is struggling with his second book and very severe anxiety attacks. Worse: due to his drug-induced blackout he has lost nearly all memory of the party, and it looks like his friend Artur disappeared that night, never to be seen again.

What did happen at that party? Is Marek's mind trying to hide something, and does he have anxiety attacks because he might have done something bad to Artur?
To get answers to these questions, Marek approaches the woman he and Artur both loved and had the fight about. And that's when things get really strange as the dame in question, called Ixjana, turns out to be into some serious witchcraft...


The Movie:

After the screening at the IFFR, co-director Michal Skolimowski got on stage and answered some questions. When asked if Alan Parker's Angel Heart was an influence, he said that he actually wasn't interested in that kind of cinema, including the David Lynch films. The only influences he acknowledged were from the art world, and cinema greats like Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa (and yes, the demon mask used in the film is a reference to Shindô Kaneto's Onibaba).
 
Having seen Ixjana, Michal's claim of detachment from genre fare seems a strange statement, as his film is a mix of the aforementioned Angel Heart and some of the better giallos from the seventies. Indeed, the brightly colored shadows of Dario Argento and Mario Bava loom over many of the shots.

And Ixjana works best when taken as such a giallo. The story is intriguing but not without (unintentional) holes, there are plenty of lusty exploitation elements and there is a distinct focus on style over content. It has been a while since I've seen a Film Noir with occult subplots, and it made me like the film a lot, warts and all.

Cinematography is the strongest factor here. According to Michal Skolimowski, cameraman Adam Sikora refused the task at first because he didn't feel the bright colors fitted the style he was best known for, and only agreed to step in after the first cameraman left. But his work here is a triumph: Ixjana looks at times gloriously lush, decadent and mysterious, but also grubby and realistic when needed.

Ixjana was written and directed by both Michal and Józef Skolimowski. But when Józef suddenly died in an accident last year, his brother Michal had to do the editing by himself, something which he was not accustomed to. Maybe this is why the editing is uneven though, and at times the film feels a bit unfinished.

Acting-wise the film is so-so. Newcomer Sambor Czarnota as Marek is convincing enough, although he is never comes across as compelling. A few times he shines though. There is one bit where he is especially good, when he is seen kicking the tar out of somebody, only noticing he has an audience when he is about an inch away from killing his opponent.

And this basically sums up the film: uneven, with several bland moments but also quite some cool ones. Ixjana may not be a classic, or even all that good, but it certainly makes for enjoyable viewing.

The audience in Rotterdam seemed to agree and awarded the film a 3.3 out of 5.

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