Monday, February 1, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Prime Time

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Prime Time
Directed by Jakub Piatek
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Broadcasting your voice to a public audience has always been a complicated and uncertain process, one that can work tremendously well but may just as easily fail completely. Many who become celebrities share stories of starting at the bottom of the food chain, working the least glamorous and most thankless jobs in order to be noticed and promoted after they have proven themselves. There are those who seek to skip that often lengthy and arduous process, determined to be seen and heard without waiting for an unknown period of time. In today’s technological age, it’s much easier to cut to the front of the line, but it’s just as easy to be quickly forgotten.

On New Year’s Eve in 1999, everyone is talking about what’s going to happen in the new millennium. As Mira (Magdalena Poplawska) announces the winner of a new car to the audience watching her show, Sebastian (Bartosz Bielenia) interrupts the broadcast with a gun and a hostage, security guard Grzegorz (Andrzej Klak). Sebastian demands to know who is in the control room, where producer Laura (Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik) is being coached by two negotiators (Cezary Kosinski and Monika Frajczyk) with different strategies for reaching the man who won’t reveal his motivations other than the chance to say his piece to the camera.

This film’s premise is relatively simple, and its intrigue comes from how all of its characters respond to the tense situation. Mira has only just arrived, typically late and nearly replaced by a stand-in, and she has little patience for the uninvited guest, even after he brandishes his weapon and makes it clear how serious he is. Sebastian is evidently intelligent and knows what questions to ask to make sure that he is not being manipulated, and the negotiators say their signature lines to keep him calm and ensure that no one gets hurt. Sebastian is unwilling to share much about himself but seems surprisingly concerned with the wellbeing of the people he is holding at gunpoint.

This is a taut and thoroughly engaging film, remaining with the characters for the entirety of its runtime, switching between Sebastian and his gradually improving rapport with Mira and Grzegorz and the group of law enforcement and network personnel trying to figure out how to keep everyone safe. Its pacing is strong and enthralling, and its recreation of its very specific time period with costumes and looks is spot-on. All of its performances are terrific, particularly the lead turn by Bielenia, a breakout from last year’s “Corpus Christi,” which indicates the rich, layered nature of both his character and this unexpectedly energizing and involving film.


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