Review: HARDKOR DISKO Hides Shallow Critique Behind Luscious Visuals

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
"Be intense or be nothing", says one of the characters in Marcin Skonieczny's dazzling yet ultimately flavorless debut feature Hardkor Disko. Generalizations aside, it's merely a statement that aspires to characterize the youngest generation and its relation to the overpowering embrace of all sorts of modern media manipulations that support a somewhat alarming tendency for pictures to be visually striking and shocking, but sometimes not as creative when it comes to storytelling.

While it's undoubtedly true that some films, which tend to glorify form over substance, find success, Hardkor Disko unfortunately puts too big of an emphasis on the nevertheless luscious visuals and never clarifies its lukewarm social critique to the extent that all the given opinions eventually lose depth.

Hardkor Disko looks like a picture that's been made by an angry filmmaker who wants to make a valuable statement about the aspect of modern society that bugs him the most. Skonieczny, now 30 years old, is famous for his many eye-catching and innovative music videos. Given his enormous attention to gorgeous imagery, the decision to direct a full-length feature met with a lot of enthusiasm.

However, Hardkor Disko feels more like an (overly) extended video clip that attracts almost only due to its many sumptuous shots. Warsaw looks amazingly vibrant and enticing, even if its citizens aren't exactly what one might call perceptive and caring. Skonieczny ventures into the contemptible world of Polish copycat hipsters with a deep sense of readiness, trying to indicate that all of its inhabitants sooner or later turn into ignorant victims of their own hedonistic morality.

Marcin (Marcin Kowalczyk, in a desperately persuasive performance), a seemingly emotionless and unpredictable individual, willingly enters this pitiable realm, bringing comeuppance to all those who seem to deserve it at first sight. Here the focus is on a specific family, but one that serves as a perfect example of the whole egocentric mindset. Father (delightful Janusz Chabior) is a successful architect who tries a bit too hard to be "hip"; mother (Agnieszka Wosinska) destroys her phony armor of self-confidence with teenage-like complexes. Their daughter (Jasmina Polak) instantaneously falls in love with Marcin, but because of her utterly addictive behavior she irreversibly loses touch with reality.

The plot never really accentuates if Marcin is just the type of mysterious figure one might find in films such as Pasolini's Teorema or Miike's Visitor Q, or he's rather a coldblooded murderer seeking revenge for unmentioned past deeds. The man breaks violently into the polished life of the aforesaid family and in three separate chapters butchers everything he considers unfit for society. Ulterior motives of the hellish rampage that he goes on while spending time in a busy metropolis demand exposition, so as to clarify the driving force behind Marcin's lethal attitude. Are there any additional layers underneath the troubled man's sociopathic disposition? Can the pain that he inflicts on others be supported by any relevant explanation?

Hardkor Disko has its own splendid visual identity; the film's pacing flows along smoothly with the intensifying industrial beats, while the rhythmic editing conspicuously drags some of the more unnerving scene for quite a long time, especially when the camera assumes form of a witness of gruesome violence. Kacper Fertacz, surely a rising star among global cinematographers, knows how to film the surroundings in such a manner that immediately implies a visible emotional intensity.

Given his huge potential and obvious aspirations, Skonieczny can soon become the visionary independent director Poland's been patiently waiting for. Yes, he promised a spectacular bomb, even though Hardkor Disko is hardly an eyeful misfire. However, Skonieczny's strong aesthetic sense combined with Fertacz's remarkable cinematographic skills give impressive results, and if the two continue to work together in the future the collaboration might lead to projects that not only look gorgeous, but also have some tasteful meat.
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