Birds chop up people like fish and sell them. A filmmaker sits next to his dying mother completely unable to connect. A cat in a trench coat claims to be the embodiment of all evil. These images and many others which similarly blend the same sense of abstract horror and morbid mundanity abound in Kill It And Leave This Town, the new animated film breaking out of Poland with only a few obscure streaming locations to currently call home. I, today, want to convince you to watch it. There are few films like Mariusz Wilczyński’s feature directorial debut, Kill It And Leave This Town, and there probably shouldn’t be. I mean this, of course, as a wholehearted compliment. In many ways it is a perplexing film, it is not a straightforward film, but it is also very earnest, utterly beguiling, very disturbing, and thoroughly magical.
There are many things that have to be noted about this film but if we want to break down what genre it is, that’s a task all by itself. Is it horror? Well it’s disturbing but it’s certainly not a horror film. Is it a drama? Well, it’s incredibly moving but I can’t identify a straightforward narrative and in fact very often it takes complete leave of narrative, yet there is definitely a story that you can identify if you’re paying enough attention. The film that, for me, it has the most in common with is Pink Floyd – The Wall by Alan Parker, and I mean this as a deeply sincere compliment. Both can be broadly read as impressionist pieces, transposing that style into film in a pure and distilled form. Impressionistic techniques have always been in film but the idea of a single film representing the pure singular experience of a moment looked back at through the hazy distillation of memory is a very ambitious narrative undertaking that very few movies attempt, these two movies being great examples. However, in terms of narrative content, Kill It And Leave This Town skews less to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and more to Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell.
If we’re following this Pink Floyd – The Wall comparison, which I do think has validity, then the equivalent to Pink’s mental spiral in Kill It And Leave This Town is the moments immediately after the death of the filmmaker’s mother. In an early scene, we see a character in the foreground of the shot drawn, frankly, like a Sasquatch, talking, or rather not talking, to his dying mother. She addresses him as Mariusz, (the name of the filmmaker). Through the lens of this film, which seems to make everything seem more garish and horrible, the character bares a passing resemblance to the real life director of this film, Mariusz Wilczyński. They talk about how the director is patching things over with a close friend to score the movie, the friend suffering from a serious illness. This refers to the film’s real life composer, Tadeusz Nalepa, who died in 2007. So that should give you an idea as to how long this film has been in development, how autobiographical it is, and how personal it is. His mother and him exchange very minor phrases, the film makes an emphasis here on what’s not being said. You’re forced to sit there in the uncomfortableness, you’re forced to understand that even in her dying moments there’s nothing he can talk about, in the ways so many of us clam up in deeply tragic circumstances like that, there’s something deeply human about this scene and the horrible feeling it makes you sit in.
This scene is also a great way to start talking about the aesthetic of the movie. It is about as lo-fi as lo-fi gets. It’s entirely done on line drawing paper cut outs with various filters over it to create an ambience. It opens with a long drawn out shot where a manual light behind the paper backdrop is used to create a cigarette being morosely blown out of a window. The sole aspects of colour are red, mostly referring to blood, but also Mariusz’s mother’s bow. It’s a sole bright spot in a hellish representation. The sunken mouths look like a villain from Silent Hill, the eyes are singular beads. The whole scene embodies the hellish otherworld of the film. What this does with its simple techniques and evocative drawing is evoke a memory tinged with regret and sadness. In the same way as Carrie & Lowell, it uses a lo-fi aesthetic to evoke it’s deep sense of melancholy punctuated with garish horror.
After he’s gone the mother has a vision of herself on a train outside, and the film begins to fold in on itself and it never comes back together again. I mean this as a compliment. After the vision we begin to start seeing more versions of her in other places. It has the quality of David Lynch’s Lost Highway with a dash of Tarkovsky. The last shot of the movie is itself a homage to Tarkovsky and the whole film feels imbued with his poetic sensibilities, particularly Nostalghia and The Sacrifice with their strange abstractions and builds to conclusive, narratively satisfying endings. Pulling off that style of picture and ending takes a lot of balls and it takes a lot of work and honesty and emotional vulnerability. Wilczyński pulls it off. It also takes the edge off that Lost Highway style fervour, not to put a damper on Lost Highway but it helps me get a handle on this film of the kind that I never got with Lost Highway.
Overall, Kill It And Leave This Town was a breath of fresh air, the kind of movie I’ve been craving. A personal piece about grief, national identity, and memory. I loved it, it left me with a rejuvenated passion in the way the best films do. If you haven’t seen this earnest, deeply felt, and intimate portrait of relationships, I cannot recommend that you seek it out enough.