Edinburgh International Film Festival

Palimpsest (2006)

Starring: Andrzej Chyra, Magdalena Cielecka, Robert Gonera, Adam Ferency, Henryk Talar

Directed by: Konrad Niewolski

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Palimpsest: n. A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.

Konrad Niewolski's Palimpsest at the Edinburgh International Film Festival

And in the case of this film noir/psychological thriller, the palimpsest in question is the mind of one Detective Marek, a somewhat soft boiled policeman on the trail of a killer who's murdered one of his colleagues. Plagued by nightmares and inexplicable, jarring, almost subliminal flashbacks, he soon finds his investigation compromised as the suspect in the frame appears to be. himself. But as events begin to overwrite themselves on the fragile parchment of Marek's memory, it quickly becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems. Dot, dot, dot.

At the start, Palimpsest appears to be a fairly conventional police thriller. Set in a dull, squalid, grimy Polish city so Orwellian you can almost smell the boiled cabbage emanating from the screen, the plot comes complete with pockmarked drug dealers, a glamorous, mysterious femme fatale (the beautiful, supermodel-esque Magdalena Cielecka), a sinister and voyeuristic photographer, several thuggish hired henchman and absolutely no modern technology whatsoever. Mobile phones? Fuggedaboutit.

So far so seen it all before (although admittedly not in Polish). But don't be fooled (or put off) by the somewhat sluggish opening scenes - by the end of the film you'll be on the edge of your seat as the plot takes not one but two shocking turns of almost M Night Shyamalan proportions. Throw in a superb Psycho-style score of screeching violins so jarring it'll tear your nerves to shreds and all I can say is, hang on to your fingernails...

But when you're talking Polish cinema (as obviously you do, frequently) there's only one name that springs to mind: the mighty Roman Polanski. And with Palimpsest, director Konrad Niewolski is definitely following in the footsteps of the master, imbuing his film with more than a dash of the terrible, claustrophobic, externalised paranoia and madness of Repulsion, the sleazy, mean streets and intrigue of Chinatown or the unsettling plot shifts of The Ninth Gate.

Dark, menacing and decidedly unsettling, Palimpsest may at first glance appear run of the mill, but scratch the surface and you'll find written underneath an ingenious and nightmarish movie.

  • Share on Tumblr