We want stories about heroes. We want to see people (usually men) of action who take life by the balls, overcoming all obstacles, staring death in the face, and winning out against all odds. And if box office sales are any measure, we want to see it over and over again. Perhaps this is because we die little deaths of inaction every day, and so we crave the dash and dynamism of action heroes.
With Courage, Polish filmmakers Janusz Marganski (writer) and Greg Zglinkski (director) give us a hero who is not moving forward. He is not a man of action. And since life keeps moving and change keeps happening, the hero’s life is just as much shaped by inaction as it would be by feats of glory.
Fred (Robert Wieckiewicz) and his brother Jurek (Lukasz Simlat) are business partners. They inherited an internet and cable company from their father. Fred’s relationship with Jurek (the college boy who has just returned from America) is strained, and has been historically. Jurek wants to move forward in a fast evolving industry, while Fred digs his heels in. Fred is imperious in his work, making executive decisions without Jurek. He is rude and demanding, reacting as anyone does who is nursing emotional wounds from the past.
When we see Fred with his wife, however, it’s a different thing. He surprises her with flowers and a car. It is clear that he loves her, and that he’s a good man. But he needs to impress—to flex his masculinity. He is a gun collector. He is “boss” at work. And that’s what Courage is essentially about—masculinity in the 21st century.
The real test occurs on a train ride, when Fred and Jurek witness a group of thugs harassing a young woman. Jurek steps-in to defend her. Fred is reluctant, perhaps even paralyzed by fear. He does not come to the aid of his brother. What follows is the breakdown of Fred’s world—a world he has worked so hard to maintain. Broken and shamed in ways that are distinctly 21st century, Fred struggles in his search for repair and redemption.
The struggle is mostly inward. And this is where Courage shines. Through Wieckiewicz, we see and feel the inner chaos, the hurt, rage, and tension that Fred is fighting through. Greg Zglinkski and cinematographer Witold Plociennik create an environment that speaks to the viewer, sometimes with a hint of irony, often in whispers. The aesthetic of Courage is understated, but it’s cool tones, sparse score, and everyday scenery is punctuated by well-orchestrated moments of intensity and action.
Marganski and Zglinski give us a living hero in Fred. And they do it by getting us to know him gradually, the way we come to know people in our lives. We recognize his struggle. We know what it’s like to become inert, fossilized by habit and hardheadedness. And it becomes clear through Fred that the ability to act is linked to a capacity to give—both in the sense of offering, as well as to “yield.”
When all is said and done, questions arise around our hero—and he is a hero, not an anti-hero. Is our hero great? Did he win? Without a villain to be thrown from a high place or engulfed in a fiery explosion, how can we know?
Wymyk, 2011, 88 min.
2012 Rome Independent Film Festival – Premio New Vision a “Il Cattivo Zio”
2012 Vilnius International Film Festival – Main Proze of the “New Europe-New Names”
2011 Gdynia Polish Film Festival – Best first or second feature for Greg Zglinski, Best supporting role for Gabriela Muskala, Best screenplay for Janusz Marganski and Greg Zglinski
2011 Warsaw Film Festival – SIGNIS Prize for best film and Special Jury Prize for Robert Wieckiewicz