In today’s conservative, predominantly Catholic Poland, an open homosexual relationship is more likely to trigger gay bashing than gay pride; so it is in Tomasz Wasilewski’s sophomore feature, the feel-bad coming-out drama “Floating Skyscrapers.” Although the lead character is something of a lout as well as an emotional and intellectual cipher, this artfully shot, sexually provocative feature nabbed the Karlovy Vary fest’s East of the West competish kudo and is making the festival rounds.
Buff, macho, bantam-sized, twentysomething Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) has been training as an elite swimmer for the past 15 years. He spends most of his time working out and having hot sex with his pretty blonde girlfriend, Sylwia (standout Marta Nieradkiewicz), who lives with him and his attractive, controlling mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman, star of Wasilewski’s first film, “In a Bedroom”). The relationship between the two women is tense, exacerbated by Sylwia’s inconsiderate behavior and Ewa’s calls for her son to rub her back while she’s in the bathtub.
Otherwise, Kuba seems to have few responsibilities or interests, apart from being a dab hand in the kitchen and indulging in wordless sexual encounters with men in bathroom stalls at the gym. When Sylwia drags Kuba to an art opening, he ungraciously decamps to a balcony, where he shares a joint and a long conversation with effeminate-looking college student Michal (Bartosz Gelner). Glimpsing the two men from across the room, Sylwia glowers at the way they seem to be really into each other. She soon has a lot more to scowl about, as Kuba abandons her and their plans every time Michal calls.
A subplot addresses Michal’s relationship with his parents. His mother (Iza Kuna) sympathizes with his sexual preference, yet still encourages him to date girls. His father (Miroslaw Zbrojewicz), however, plays deaf when Michal tries to come out publicly during a family dinner.
One of the weaknesses of the film is that while Kuba convincingly comes across as a closeted, self-loathing gay man, his sudden declaration of love for Michal at the one-hour mark seems out of character. Indeed, their relationship is shown to revolve around physical desire; we never get to hear their conversations or find out what makes the not particularly likable Kuba tick.
As evidenced by his debut feature, Wasilewski is interested in provocative sexual behavior and has no problem getting his actors to play intimate, graphic scenes. However, he’s less successful when it comes to creating appealing characters in which the audience can take a rooting interest. Nevertheless, “Skyscrapers” marks a big step up from the low-budget “Bedroom” and showcases the director’s flair for composition and intelligent use of sound.
The acting is strong, with the actresses managing to suggest more about their characters than their male counterparts do with theirs. Eye-catching widescreen production design makes interesting use of water motifs, while sophisticated soundscapes leave some sexual activity to the imagination.
“Floating Skyscrapers” will be shown at Frameline 38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival at the Victoria Theater Saturday, June 21 at 9:30 p.m. and at the Roxie Theater Thursday, June 26 at 9:30 p.m. Go to www.frameline.org.