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Set aside the Ennio Morricone-homaging soundtrack and Eastern isn’t as much “western” as it is Greek. The detached wide shots framing bizarrely inexpressive characters call to mind the award-winning films of director Yorgos Lanthimos, while the story of doomed youth unable to escape their family’s bloody fate is pure Sophocles.
First-time director Piotr Adamski was a conceptual artist before he took up film-making and it shows in Eastern’s precise mise en scène and the success with which it transposes a violent, medieval honour code to a modern Polish suburb. Maja Pankiewicz stars as Ewa Nowak, a young woman called on to defend the family honour when her brother is killed as part of a heavily ritualised vendetta with the neighbouring Kowalskis.
This is a source of emasculating shame to her father (Son of Saul’s Marcin Czarnik) – since women are regarded as inferior in this patriarchal society – but a physical disability prevents him from doing the necessary. And it is necessary. Everyone, including Ewa’s intended target, fun-loving teenager Klara Kowalska (Paulina Krzyzanska) understands that. The only way out of their bind is an officially notarised blood-money payment, for which Klara’s mother can’t (or won’t) find the funds.
Once you take the human emotion out of it – and there are no wailing widows or enraged mobs in Eastern – the morality of revenge becomes a simple mathematical formulation. Is a grown man’s leg equal in value to a young girl’s life? Can the execution of two daughters cancel out the loss of one beloved son? The film’s answer also seems to contain an indirect comment on the current state of conservative-nationalist politics in Poland. Ultimately, in this world – as in ours – an insult to male pride can be used to justify any manner of slaughter and suffering.
• Eastern is released on 13 November on digital formats.
Source: The Guardian
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