One of the films on the slate for the 2019 North Bend Film Fest is the Polish drama Monument. The second feature from director Jagoda Szelc, the film is a hypnotic experience, yet is difficult to break down. Part drama, part character study, part science fiction, part performance art, the film challenges the viewer in fascinating ways as it creates something altogether unique.
Monument opens with a group of students en route to a remote hotel for a hospitality internship. The students are all strangers to one another, but make friendly banter and joke around with each another on the ride. The bus drives through the night, and when the students awaken, they discover that they have arrived. They are quickly met by the hotel's manager, a strict woman with a no-nonsense attitude. She assigns the group name tags that either say “Pawel” or “Ania”—the customers don't actually care what their names are, so it really doesn't matter what their name tags say. She assigns them each a role: cleaning, working in the kitchen, tending to guests in the spa, laundry. Everyone has a job and everyone has work to do.
After the initial introduction, we are a fly on the wall observer of the interns going about their tasks. It's mundane work, but it also gives us an opportunity to begin to know our characters—to a certain degree. In a setting that strips them of names and identities outside of their tasks, the cast still manages to give us little peeks into the psyches of their characters. This film was the graduate project of students from the Lodz Film Academy, and from a craft perspective, it's interesting to see them throw themselves into roles that are intentionally lacking definition and find ways to communicate through them.
It's a challenging film, eschewing traditional narrative in favor of something much more abstract, contained within the setting of the hotel. Over the course of the film, the atmosphere slowly becomes more and more unsettling. The changes are so small and slow that you don't easily notice the shift, but it is there. As the story progresses, the nature of the setting becomes less clear and the situation in which the interns find themselves becomes much more strange and less defined. The lighting and sound design very slowly take on an increasingly grim tone, and time goes quietly undeliniated. We have no idea how long the interns have been there. The days melt together and the work goes on, but we are without a compass to link us to anything outside of the hotel.
The narrative is loose by design and ultimately it is much more interested in asking questions than it is in answering them. It will certainly cause frustration for some viewers, but it's the kind of film that can offer a lot of food for thought if you are willing to open yourself up to the experience. Because it really is more of a viewing experience than it is a traditional story, and in that, it takes some interesting turns and risks leading up to the final scene. The film is an enigma, and it is very much about the journey more than it is about the destination.
Movie Score: 3/5
Check here to read all of Emily von Seele's North Bend Film Fest 2019 reviews!