Cinema Epoch // 2006 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 13th, 2009
A hypnotic mystery.
Palimpsest, n. A parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.
After a Polish police officer is thrown from a third story window, his friend and former partner Marek (Andrzej Chyra, Persona non grata) is assigned to the case. His investigations lead him into obsession; his personal connection to the murder drives him toward insanity. In his sleepless nights suffering hallucinations, he thinks he sees the killer, but it isn't somebody who Marek can believe would do it.
Palimpsest is a simple thriller, but the story is told in such an oblique, stylized way, it makes the film appear more complex than it is. Marek's sadness and anger toward his friend's death make him immediately passionate about solving the case as quickly as possible. All his initial leads turn up empty, however, and this frustration leads him to sleepless nights where he dwells on the case and begins to become obsessed. This obsession drives him to drink, which brings his most irrational, paranoid thoughts to the surface, leading to more of the same. Drunk, tired, and confuse, Marek isn't in the kind of state of mind conducive to solving a baffling murder case, but he trudges confidently through these hindrances, even as his symptoms worsen, in order to find the truth.
This truth, however, is at once staring him in the face and not there at all. People speak to him cryptically, like he should already know what they mean, confusing him further and leading him toward violent interrogation methods for a straight answer. Finally, his old world begins to collapse when he reconnects with Hanna (Magdalena Cielecka), an old girlfriend who Marek and his late partner had both been sleeping with. She is the key to the case and the door to Marek's sanity. Only the hallucinations that he sees, exacerbated by her presence, can give him the information he needs to solve the case.
Marek's visions give us the answers to the problems that finally clear up for certain in the final act. As the pieces fall into place, much of what we've previously seen begins to make sense and the meaning of the title word becomes clear. A manuscript erased, replaced by new writing does not eradicate the original text. Instead, it obscures the original, leaving only confused remnants. In like fashion, we have a human brain, fractured by paranoia. The key is to decipher the original and, once that has cleared, so too can the mind come back to normal.
In a short 80 minutes, director Konrad Niewolski (Symetria) constructs a fine thriller that lives on both the rational and the insane sides of the brain. Marek's hallucinations, through image and sound, come and go in an instant, with only glancing references to the action happening immediately on screen. Niewolski's Poland is a dreary place full of murky shadows and secrets; only swatches of green illuminate the darkness. His noirish vision comes through clearly and he shoots the footage in an interesting enough manner to keep it from feeling derivative of the many things the look is culled from. The acting has a similarly stilted way about it until the finale, where both there performances and the film style become much more flat and standard as we learn the sane, sober side of the story. Chyra does well with Marek, acting perfectly driven, but just on the verge of insanity. Likewise, Cielecka does good work as Hanna. At first, she gives the most suspicious performance in the film but, in the end, those suspicions are revealed as normalcy in a drastically abnormal world.
Cinema Epoch could have done far better by Palimpsest, a visually arresting film, but elected instead to release a bare bones edition with shoddy picture and sound. The image transfer is bad simply by virtue of not being anamorphically enhanced. There is no excuse for this at this point on any level, but if only that was the end of it. There is a significant amount of dust and damage on the source print. The black levels, so important in a film this dark, are all over the place and pixilation is apparent throughout. The green hues that strike lines through the black are equally poor, bleeding into the black constantly. The sound isn't quite so poor, but is only average at its best. This is a film driven by auditory cues, so more separation would have been appreciated, even if I can't expect a 5.1 surround track. The only extra is a scant still gallery and it appears that Cinema Epoch, who generally does far better work with their releases, didn't even try here.
Short and sweet, Palimpsest is a worthy effort of noir-tinged surrealism. While neither the most complex plot nor the most tightly wrapped package, it still manages to efficiently maintain the intrigue without ever going overboard with it. If only Cinema Epoch cared enough to allow viewers a proper release to enjoy it with.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Polish)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery