Wojciech Smarzowski is one of the important directors working in Poland today, and his latest feature, “Pod Mocnym Aniolem” [Eng. Title: The Mighty Angel] is also among the grittiest and bleakest that he’s ever made. The film tackles the subject of alcoholism by approaching it as more than merely a social ill. I’d seen the film a few months earlier and never intended to write about it for reasons too close to home in many respects, but have nevertheless felt compelled to do so following Robin Williams’ recent passing.
Jerzy (Robert Wieckiewicz) has everything going for him – he’s a successful writer whose most recent novel is a best seller. His opinions and views are much sought after by academia and he is often appearing in various TV channels doing interviews. He is a respected and valued member of society. And he is also engaged to marry his beautiful and much younger publisher (Julia Kijowska).
But Jerzy has a problem – one that will lead to his repeated stints in rehab. He’ll leave the clinic when he feels that he has everything under control, but his feet will irresistibly drag him to a liquor store ironically named The Mighty Angel the moment he steps off his taxi.
Jerzy will end up spending most of his time and money cleaning or getting rid of clothes soiled through drunken stupors, and replacing empty bottles at home with new ones – he’s a person who truly did sound like a wind chime walking down the street when stumbling home. Before long, he’d be back in rehab once again.
Through all his frequent transgressions, he never realises that he’s destroying himself; in fact he doesn’t want to die – at least not just yet. He wants to drink himself to death only after he’d lived a long and happy life (better than living through dementia, in his opinion). It is small wonder that Jerzy’s relationship with his fiancée, despite her tenacious love, patience, and understanding, will reach a breaking point.
It is their relationship’s inevitable demise that’ll lead him to hitherto uncharted territory, such as his wholesale loss of dignity, appalling injuries, and even police confinement – essentially like that of any other old bum on the street. The film ends with his subsequent release from rehab, and yet again standing at the crossroads, in more ways than one – and hoping, like most of us, to live that elusive long and happy life.
The central question that the film poses is none other than the age old one about the purpose of living itself. “Generally, the sense of human existence is reduced to strenuous efforts to lift one’s spirits. Ideology, for example, may serve this purpose, the same with religion, technical progress, and material goods.” Jerzy then goes on to wonder if alcohol may serve the same purpose too. It brings us to a subject that inevitably involves the often misleading term named ‘depression’. The film makes a claim that one doesn’t necessarily need to suffer from personal or societal problems in order to descend into a spiral of despair, and that it could be a philosophical issue too.
Jerzy isn’t exactly going through a writer’s block. He isn’t traumatised by the past even considering his late father’s own alcoholism, nor does he have any financial or social worries. He is successful and well loved. And yet he suffers, from problems arising from issues that are not only spiritual, but existential too. Using experiences of other alcoholics at the clinic as supporting case studies, the film is as much a comparative study about sadness as the suffering itself, associated with a habit which often begins benignly as a reward-seeking mechanism. Convincingly portrayed by Robert Wieckiewicz and unflinchingly captured by director Smarzowski, it is an unrelentingly brutal, solemn, and honest attempt to present the often-ignored other side of conventional narrative – that of the ‘bum’. It might be difficult to watch, but it’s Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Julia Kijowska and Monika Dorota
There is brief nudity shown during a couple of scenes – the first is of Jerzy and his girlfriend discussing alcoholism and expressing their mutual love for each other, and the second instance is of Jerzy having sex with a big-bosomed nurse at the rehab clinic.