Zenek review – synth-pop and showbiz behind the iron curtain | Drama films

Polish director Jan Hryniak has made a shaky drama about a teenager from 1980s nowheresville who becomes a mega-successful pop star. Based on the real-life career of disco polo act Zenon Martyniuk, this feels like a remix of a dozen better, more heartfelt coming-of-age films. It is fundamentally unconvincing and bland, a missed opportunity to say something – anything – about life as a teenager behind the iron curtain. Watching Zenek, I was reminded of Jeremy Deller’s interviews with people who’d grown up in East Germany and Soviet Russia starved of western pop music, in his brilliant documentary about Depeche Mode superfans, The Posters Came from the Walls.

Jakub Zajac has the boyish good looks of young Ewan McGregor in the role of Zenek, a kid with mullet who gets a break as a wedding singer, arriving at his first gig by horse and cart and belting out Boy George covers in village halls in return for vodka. Pretty soon the gawky youngster blossoms into a local heartthrob, impressing out-of-his-league cool-girl Danka (Klara Bielawka). There is some gentle mickey-taking here at the copious hairspray required to keep Zenek’s hairdo in place and his tinny brand of synth-heavy Polish pop, but nothing so interesting as celebrity satire.

The film then plods unrevealingly through the years: Zenek and Danka marry; his fame grows; nonstop touring and booze takes a toll on their relationship; he starts wearing suits that look as if they were made from B&B curtains. The story unfolds over three time-frames: in 2004 Something Terrible happens after a stadium gig, awkwardly bolting a ropey thriller narrative on to the end; throughout we see a documentary crew making a film about Zenek’s life. Oddly, Danka is played by the same actor throughout but Krzysztof Czeczot takes over as Zenek in middle age. Like an 80s guitar solo, this movie seems to go on for ever.

• Zenek is released in the UK on 6 March.

Source: The Guardian

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