Written by Krzysztof Skonieczny and Robert Bolesto
Directed by Krzysztof Skonieczny
‘Be intense or be nothing’. This statement, made by a middle-aged architect during a civilised breakfast, is put forward as a motto for his daughter’s disaffected generation. Lacking in attention and purpose, they need ‘stimulus after stimulus’ to stay interested, to keep them feeling alive. The phrase also becomes something like a raison d’être for Hardkor Disko, a film that hinges on its discomforting atmosphere and ability to aggravate the senses.
It opens with Marcin (Marcin Kowalczyk), a sullen, misanthropic figure, playing with a large knife in an abandoned theme park. At one point he leaves it hovering right between his eyes; you get the impression he could just let it drop there and then. Instead, he makes for Warsaw and goes directly to an expensive apartment, in search of the couple who live there. As it happens, neither are in but he meets their daughter Ola (Jasmine Polak) and stalks her during a night out. After he frightens off her date, they get together and find they share a passion for hard drugs, parties, alcohol and pain.
Always a remarkably early riser, Ola is gone when Marcin wakes up the next day but he finally gets to meet her parents. Although they invite him to stay for breakfast, making a point of their liberal attitude towards their daughter’s lifestyle, it’s clear that they have no idea who he is. Marcin gives nothing away either, so his connection to them remains ambiguous throughout the film. The only indications we get about his motives are some old home video clips and childishly drawn title frames, but even these raise more questions than they answer. Suffice to say, he means the couple harm.
Marcin’s obscure origins give the impression he’s an archetypal figure, emerging from the wreck of his youth and guided by innate anger. Like a nihilist version of the Visitor from Pasolini’s Teorema, he seeks to destroy the lives of the pernicious bourgeoisie, in a way that’s both universal and deeply personal. Played with depth and intensity by Kowalczyk, Marcin’s calculation and capacity for violence make every scene unnerving, given that he requires no provocation, only opportunity, in order to act. The film also has an undercurrent of dark, absurdist humour, embellished by some explicit staging and impassive performances.
Hardkor Disko is writer-director Krzysztof Skonieczny’s first feature, and, while he has numerous acting credits, he’s best known in Poland for directing music videos. Perhaps because of this, the best sequences are those that combine music and images, notably the hardkor parties and car journeys into the countryside. Visually, the film is impressive and deliberate, heavily aestheticised to add to the uneasy atmosphere. Individual shots are thoughtfully composed, designed to highlight Marcin’s detachment from events and the power relations between the characters. Occasionally Skonieczny tries to be a little too clever – one key scene is excessively long, while another is over before it really gets going – but overall it’s a highly accomplished debut.
It never gets as explosive as the opening suggests but there’s always an insidious rage lurking just beneath the surface. The social commentary is implicit, perhaps not fully formed, but there’s no question that Hardkor Disko is nihilistic and rebellious, threatening destruction and unfeeling retribution. There are some stunning, operatic sequences, and, despite the subject matter, the film has a surprising emotional core. Marcin’s relationship with Ola is perverse and confrontational but ultimately cathartic. They’re intrigued, almost awed, by one another, united by their unpredictability and inclination to revolt.