Multiplying Narratives

 Anita Piotrowska, "Tygodnik Powszechny", Krakow Film Festival (2018):

"Nobody, not even the painter himself, can explain the one thing that is truly essential in a painting" – once wrote the Cubist, Georges Braque. The film "Diary of a Beholder" by Jarosław Migoń is an intriguing attempt to counter this impossibility. Presenting the oeuvre of Krakow painter Jacek Sroka, it gives voice not only to him but also, and perhaps above all, to his paintings. Along with its protagonist, it thoroughly examines them, but also analyzes and animates them using cinematic means, resulting in a dynamic portrait of the artist, far from conventional depictions.

Contrary to the title "Diary of a Beholder," although structured over the days of the week, it offers more than a chronicled record or an observation of momentary reality through the eyes of its protagonist. Sroka, immersed in Fernand Braudel, conceives of historical time in terms of the longue durée and from such an expanded perspective narrates his works. They reflect experiences of communism, especially the martial law period, and cultural transformations of the last decades. Migoń finds a filmic form capable of accommodating the artist's work both in its individual dimension, expressing the anxieties and obsessions of a specific person, and in its collective aspect, capturing the spirit of an era. He achieves this in "Diary…" through constant shifts in viewpoint, which incidentally reflects his protagonist's intellectual mobility.

We watch the painter bustling in the kitchen, revealing to us his "painting kitchen". We see him surrounded by his family, and then shortly thereafter, we witness an intriguing intermingling - his family life and painting seem organically intertwined. Hence, the camera devotes much attention to the home interiors and the peculiarities and ordinary objects gathered there. Jacek Sroka's private microcosm: his home, city, people and animals close to him, and daily rituals, prove no less important than the expressive macrocosm of his canvases or his brilliant and self-aware comments on art. Thanks to this attention to external detail, "Diary of a Beholder" becomes an even more "internal" portrait - meaning: deeply nuanced, touching the essence of what the artist himself calls "the miracle in painting".

Most importantly, Migoń does not try to format his protagonist, confining him within the correct "art film" schemas. On the contrary: both the cinematography by Piotr Trela, and the music by Marcin Gałażyn from the Motion Trio band, as well as the well-rhythmed editing, serve to extract the entire uniqueness, sense of humor, and peculiar unruliness of the portrayed character. A similar role is played by the variety of techniques used by the director: besides documentary recording and intelligently edited archives, the director also resorts to animations that allow one to freely "dive" into Sroka's paintings or discover the secrets of his "alchemy of colors".

"Almost always I title paintings, though they defend themselves without captions. Titles multiply meanings, just as film multiplies stories" – when at the beginning of the documentary Jacek Sroka utters these words off-camera, the camera films his individual canvases from the back. In the next shots, dozens or hundreds of neatly arranged reversed paintings appear. Migoń’s documentary not only faces them frontward, maximizes their close-ups, and allows us to hear the voice previously recorded in diaries. In line with the reflection cited here, the film does not stop at a canonical biography, but strives to multiply the narrative about the author of "Black Rain". It does not pin him down to rigid frames.


Anita Piotrowska - Film critic for "Tygodnik Powszechny". She writes for the magazines "EKRANy", "Kino", and the psychological monthly "Charaktery". She is a member of the International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI and has served as a juror at numerous festivals at home and abroad (including Karlovy Vary, Istanbul, Moscow, Ankara, Oberhausen, Hong Kong, Cairo, T-Mobile New Horizons, Off Plus Camera, Planete Doc). At the Krakow Film Festival, she co-creates its documentary program. She is a recipient of the Polish Film Institute Award for film criticism (2014). (Source: Tygodnik Powszechny)

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