Taken from the like-titled American pop tune of 1959 (“ Who will kiss you, hold you tight?”), the name of Piotr Uklanski’s 2006 feature Summer Love could conjure any number of daydream images, but not likely those with which the Polish artist begins his gloriously perverse neo-Western. On a rocky beach strewn with dead and dying cowboys, the so-called Wanted Man–aptly played in Uklanski’s low-budget film by a sought-after Hollywood star–is introduced by a cast credit that is as final as they come: “ …and Val Kilmer.” Andy Williams croons, “ Will you walk along the beach/Like we did last summer?” Alas, no: The movie is less than five minutes old and Kilmer’s fly-ridden Wanted Man is already gone, baby, gone.
Uklanski, whose intermittently mesmerizing and hilarious film runs twice more (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.) as part of the Walker’s “ Expanding the Frame,” spoke after the first screening on January 12. “ I wanted to keep the focus of the film on the concept of dislocation–a Western in Poland,” he explained. “ The plot is clichéd and the characters are iconographic–empty, if you will.” We will, indeed. Near the end of the Q&A, an audience member leadingly asks Uklanski, “ The American actor doesn’t talk at all in the movie, does he?” The director, coolly dressed in shades of black, replies as if channeling Eastwood’s Man With No Name and Few Words. “ No. He’s dead. Yeah.”
Uklanski’s humor may be dry in the extreme, but his movie is verily awash in fluids–vomit, spittle, blood, rain, booze, tears, and piss. As befits the setting in post-Communist southern Poland, the elemental is all: “ Town” here is but a trio of old wooden shacks at the edge of a disarmingly motionless lake. (The title card’s “ S” appears as a dollar sign on a coin that spins but briefly before falling dead. Ka-chung.) In the absence of heroes, our heroine is a busty, redheaded barmaid (Katarzyna Ficura) to whom the guys–those few left alive, that is–blow halfhearted kisses and flash their lewdly wiggling tongues. Kinky, too, is the barebones ESL dialogue. “ You know what dat means,” the town sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) says to his makeshift posse, pointing at a rock. “ Absolutely nothing.” And then the punchline. “ But you did not know that.”
Pointedly plotless, Summer Love, to its credit, isn’t a movie for those who expect or demand “ narrative” and the like. (“ The story wanders aimlessly,” the Strib‘s critic complains in a review that wanders aimlessly itself.) Shots from the POV of the Wanted Man’s lifeless eye are tinted red–not for blood, but the sliced tomatoes that some other tough guy pressed into the dead man’s sockets. What is this–The Assassination of Val Kilmer by the Coward Piotr Uklanski?
Maybe so–or else it’s $3.10 to Nowhere, the great adventure of capitalism sans cash. Deadpan to the end, the director makes his Hollywood casting coup sound effortless, as if he didn’t even need to cover the star’s airfare. “ He was in Russia, and Poland is on the way,” Uklanski says of Kilmer–who, in a more justly lawless industry, would get at least an Oscar nomination for his trouble.
Amazingly, Summer Love isn’t the “ Expanding” series’s only Eastern European film that playfully critiques U.S. hegemony in part by borrowing its ironic title from an American pop song(!). California Dreamin’ (February 8 at 7:30 p.m.), a Cannes award-winner and key installment in the Romanian New Wave, follows a Romanian station manager (Razvan Vasilescu) who concocts a 3:10 to Yuma-worthy eye-for-an-eye plot to delay an American NATO train en route to Kosovo. Prater, to my knowledge, isn’t also the name of an old Top 40 tune, but this Ulrike Ottinger documentary about the titular Viennese amusement park (screening February 22 at 7:30 p.m.) takes an alternately wistful and skeptical glance at the culture of escapism. Like the other Ottinger films in the “ Frame” series, Prater is a movie recommended strongly to anyone who wouldn’t rather be taking that new East-is-West rollercoaster ride known as Rambo.