ON AIR: The New Classical FM

Film Reviews: Green Border & Kinds of Kindness

Arts Review2024-6-28By: Marc Glassman


Power in Tragedy and Comedy

Green Border & Kinds of Kindness

By Marc Glassman


Green Border

Agnieszka Holland, director, and co-script w/Gabriela Lazarkiewicz-Sieczko & Maciej Pisuk

Starring: Jalal Altawil (Bashir), Maja Ostaszewska (Julia), Tomasz Wlosok (Jan), Behi Djanati Atai (Leila), Dalia Naous (Amina), Taim Ajjan (Nur), Talia Ajjan (Ghalia)


In the fall of 2021, the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko set a trap for the European Union (EU) by inviting Syrian refugees to fly to Minsk, his capital, where armed forces would take them to the Polish border, allowing them free entry to the EU. Lukashenko, a notorious dictator who is Putin’s greatest ally in Europe and a fierce enemy of the EU, wanted to expose Poland as a hypocritical country that would reject Middle Eastern asylum seekers—and he was right. Poland was then controlled by a nationalist right-wing government, which was easily manipulated by Lukashenko’s plot, and the result was a nearly endless stream of human rights abuses against the helpless displaced Syrians and others, from lands as far apart as Congo and Afghanistan, who tried to enter the border.

This is the distressing but politically relevant backdrop to Green Border, a brilliant film by legendary Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, which won a host of awards at the prestigious Venice Film Festival and has been acclaimed at festivals in places as far flung as Chicago, Tromso, the Hague and Toronto. It’s fair to say that Green Border is a film that is about more than cinema prizes. Holland has been fearlessly political since her youth in the 1960s and ‘70s, having made controversial films banned in her twenties by the old Communist regime, and then after a period of democracy following the fights led by the famous trade union Solidarność (“Solidarity”) movement, has found herself once again working for human rights and freedom of speech in modern-day Poland. 

Holland starts her film–a drama, not a documentary–on one of Lukashenko’s planes, where we see the quiet hopes expressed by a Syrian family—a father, Bashir; a mother, Leila; third children and Bashir’s father—all hoping to relocate in Sweden, where a brother is living. On the flight, they meet an Afghani woman, with similar dreams—and, throughout the film, we encounter others whose aspirations are pitiable in their normality. All they want is to be free but what they have to contend with is brutality, anger, and racism. 

In the deliberately upsetting opening chapter of this episodic film, Holland shows us the Lukashenko pattern of behaviour in all of its appalling details. Our Syrian family and new Afghanistan friend are forced across the border from Belarus into Poland, with no food or water, into the last remaining primeval forest in Europe. Heavily wooded, this green border is filled with swamps and occupied by bison and other beasts—awesomely beautiful but just as terrifying. All too soon, the extended family are captured by the Polish border patrol, which sends them back to Belarus, where they are abused—and sent back to Poland again. This is Kafka writ large—no one wants these hapless people, who cling to existence and truly don’t want to threaten or anger anyone.

In a second chapter, Holland introduces us to a young Polish border guard, Jan, whose wife is very pregnant; he spends what spare time he has building a house for them. It should be an inconsequential life, but Jan has a dilemma: as a border guard, he has to brutally expel people from his country. It preys on his conscience but is there anything he can do about it?

In another chapter, we meet members of an unorthodox Polish group of activists, who are trying to help the refugees. Within the limits of the government’s draconian laws, the women and men in the movement offer food, blankets, and medical sustenance to the beleaguered displaced people, thrust with no warning into a huge ancient forest, in the beginning of a harsh winter. The bravery of the Poles acting nearly illegally to help others lines up harrowingly with the circumstances of their “clients,” who have practically no rights as a forsaken group and are wanted by no country at all.

If there’s a protagonist in this film, it’s Julia (the brilliant Polish actor Maja Ostaszewska), a woman in her early 50s dealing with personal tragedies, who becomes motivated after witnessing a ghastly calamity to join the activists in their fight for human rights. We witness her conversion to radical behaviour with sympathy as she is clearly a caring and mature person.

Holland crafts the film with resolute skill to incorporate the disparate voices and attitudes of Poles, Syrians, and others into a compelling narrative. She does marvellous work, evoking the terrors of the forest at night. The viewer is invited to feel the fear that non-Europeans would endure once the terrain turns dark: it makes one think of Grimm fairy tales and worse. Fifty years of filmmaking has turned Holland into a master. There isn’t a scene that runs too long or feels out of place; the performances from actors ranging from professional to amateur and 70 to seven always feels correct for the film. 

Agnieszka Holland ran into severe criticism in Poland when Green Border was released there. Her portrayal of the unfeeling brutality of the border guards and the police was attacked as being unpatriotic. Indeed, the film suffered from a series of local bans and was abused verbally and in print by members of the Law and Justice Party, the right wing group that ran Poland for nearly 20 years. Now, thanks in part to Holland’s film, democracy has prevailed in Poland again after recent elections. 

That’s the happiest ending for Green Border, a film that may split political opinion, but which was made wonderfully well by one of cinema’s greats, Agnieszka Holland. Whether in Poland or Canada, it’s a worthwhile film—hard to watch in parts but a genuine cinematic experience. 


Kinds of Kindness

Yorgos Lanthimos, director & co-script w/Efthimis Filippou

A “triptych fable, consisting of: “The Death of R.M.F.”, “R.M.F. is Flying,” and “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.”

Starring in story sequence: Emma Stone (Rita, Liz, Emily), Jesse Plemons (Robert, Daniel, Andrew), Willem Dafoe (Raymond, George, Omi), Margaret Qualley (Vivian, Martha, the twins Ruth and Rebecca), Hong Chau (Sarah, Sharon, Aka), Joe Alwyn (collectibles appraiser, passenger, Joseph), Mamadou Athie (Will, Neil, morgue nurse)


Has Yorgos Lanthimos lost the plot by giving us a truly strange film with three plots? The Greek auteur has always made unique pictures so why should audiences be stunned by Kinds of Kindness, his new one? Probably because his last two films, The Favorite and Poor Things, odd as they were, somehow connected with a large international crowd, which was interested in both a psychosexual drama surrounding an 18th century British Queen and a bizarre semi-feminist take on Frankenstein.  

Kinds of Kindness doesn’t have the advantage of being set in the past, nor does it have one easily trackable storyline. This time, Lanthimos has offered us three stories placed more or less in the present that make a certain amount of psychological sense but certainly don’t cohere to easily recognizable plot patterns. He does, however, give us the same performers—mainly Indie movie stars—who play contrasting characters in the tales. Casting Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, and Hong Chau as the leads does give Lanthimos’ audience some people they know even as they struggle to figure out what they’re doing, from one tale to the next. 

The first story, “The Death of R.M.F.” pushes the worship of a boss to the farthest possible extent. Jesse Plemons who is the first Hollywood star since Matt Damon to be able to convincingly play ordinary men, is Robert, a corporate success, as long as he listens to everything that Raymond (Willem Dafoe), his employer, has to say. This being a Lanthimos tale, Robert is even being told when he should make love to his wife—and whether they should have children. When Robert defies Raymond by refusing to kill R.M.F. in a traffic accident, his whole life unravels. What should he do to win back Raymond’s love?

“R.M.F. is Flying” is the ultimate take on the Capgras syndrome in which someone feels that their loved one has been replaced by an imposter. Plemons plays Daniel, a policeman whose wife Liz (Emma Stone), a marine biologist, has been lost at sea along with her colleagues. When she unexpectedly returns, Daniel becomes convinced that she’s not really Liz. In order to win him back, Liz is willing to do anything—and, ultimately, that’s what Daniel demands. This story is truly disquieting and doesn’t seem to make sense at all. 

“R.M.F. eats a Sandwich” meshes together black comedy with science fiction. Emma Stone plays Emily, part of a duo with Jesse Plemons’ Andrew who are looking for a saviour, someone who can the raise the dead back into living. Their guru Omi (Willem Dafoe) has charged them with finding the “one,” who will be a living twin with the other deceased. When Margaret Qualley (Ruth and Rebecca) insists on meeting them, Emily and Andrew know that she can’t be the saviour since both twins are alive. That conclusion changes for Emily when she makes the mistake of spending time with her former husband and daughter—and when passed out, is made to have sex with him. When Omi kicks her out of the cult for being impure, Emily realizes the only way to get back is to find the guru, who might be one of the twins after all. After knowing what happened in the first two stories, will anyone be surprised when this tale also ends disastrously?

Yorgos Lanthimos is a fascinating filmmaker. He knows how to extract great performances from his players, but his style isn’t necessarily bravura. Poor Things had an extraordinary look, but his earlier films didn’t, nor does this one. What he enjoys is black comedy. Lanthimos loves psychodrama and elaborate, unknowable metaphors. 

While none of the stories is as powerful as the director’s international hits, the first, “The Death of R.M.F.” does pack a punch. What he has here is a story with genuine resonance. Many of us have seen people sacrifice their self-esteem to please the head man in their company. Here, Lanthimos takes that idea and pushes it to the extreme. Would you actually kill for your boss? It’s a crazy idea but one that has the power of being based on something we can understand.  

Unfortunately, the other two stories lack that little bit of reality, which can turn the most bizarre situation into something powerful. Those poorer tales aren’t grounded in enough psychological truth to make their fantastic conclusions seem important or genuinely upsetting. 

Kinds of Kindness is unlikely to be a hit, which places a lot of pressure on his producers to suggest the right script for him to do next. 

Should one recommend Kinds of Kindness? Yes, but only if your emotional temper is cool or cold, and you adore irony. Otherwise, you will be disappointed.



To learn about advertising opportunities with Classical FM use the link below:

Listen on the Go

Classical Logo
Download Apps
Download Apps
Marilyn Lightstone Reads
Art End World
Part of
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer