Drinks and Drugs in Warsaw Make for ‘Sleepless Nights’

Michal Marczak’s new nonfiction film, "All These Sleepless Nights," recounts protagonist Krzys's nocturnal escapades in Warsaw, Poland. The enchanting cinematography and authentic characterization create an absorbing film worth watching.

The title of Michal Marczak’s cinematically luscious nonfiction film sounds like a trophy count — “All These Sleepless Nights.” In fact, for the young, lovesick and restless protagonist Krzys, who prides himself in living from one moment to the next, it almost is. Krzys and his best friend Marczak inhabit a very specific milieu of contemporary Warsaw, where partying seems to be the primary occupation.

Marczak not only records the pair’s nocturnal escapades, but steps into their midst — encouraging certain actions, romanticizing some and mocking others. Yet Marczak himself is never visible — his only imprint is the floating, almost dancing, camera movement. His almost counterintuitive invisibility fosters a closeness between the characters, their surrounding and the audience. This sense of unmitigated presence and intimacy makes the film appear a finely tuned drama.  

At the beginning of the film, Krzys fails to get back together with his ex-girlfriend. He spends much of the following time gazing searchingly around various dancefloors, contemplating love in the wee hours of the morning and smoking endless chains of cigarettes. Finally, Michal introduces Krzys to Eva, his own ex-girlfriend, and sparks immediately ignite.

Although Eva seems like his dream girl, Krzys’ pursuit of her inevitably causes ruptures in his friendships with Marczak and eventually with Eva — an age-old story of young love and coming-of-age. It’s a familiar story because learning to deal with desire, friendship and necessary loneliness is something we all experience, serving as a reminder that “All These Sleepless” nights is no fictional narrative — despite its seemingly perfect fluidity.

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Any banality there may be in the film comes from the protagonists’ own sense of mediocrity. Their attempts at eloquent self-expression and self-explanation sometimes sound trite, only reflecting the futility of attempting to appear authentic. On the other hand, the sequences staged especially for the camera feel more genuine, and also boast extraordinary visual appeal. Krzys dancing in the middle of a busy street, jumping on a row of police cars or chatting up strangers in a pink bunny suit may sound somewhat ostentatious. Yet as the audience watches the film, they realize that these scenes reflect Krzys’ need for validation and an endless search for an identity.

By allowing Krzys and the others to perform versions of themselves, Marczak shows that no one is a fixed character. He effectively renders the positive side of searching and seeking by facilitating a space for performative acts or otherwise capturing pointless roaming around in the most cinematic of ways.

At the same time, there are scenes in which the young and hip — and it must be noted, well-off — urbanites come off as self-absorbed and lacking any real-world connection. Marczak’s portrayal of Warsaw as a colorful and ceaselessly lit city supports the criticism that these citizens live inside a fantasy, self-perpetuated with the help of drugs and alcohol. However, following Marczak’s camera, it’s difficult not to get drawn into the lifestyle and, for a moment, contemplate its appeal.

“All These Sleepless Nights” will be released in New York City theaters on Friday, April 14.

Email Zuzia Czemier-Wolonciej at [email protected].

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