May 5, 2023
Mikolaj Trynda, Miroslaw Skibinski
There’s a stillness about Pawel Sadowski’s ‘Tradition’, a meditative chill in the air, reflective of both the sereneness of the nature that surrounds the film, and the core themes of the film as a whole. That’s because this Polish language film is brimming to the bit with gloriously unspoken dialogue, which only grow as tensions rise between the characters in this two-hander.
Robert (Mikolaj Trynda) has traveled back home to Poland to visit his father, whom he hasn’t seen since moving to Britain to work in Birmingham. His father lives on a big country estate - the kind where you could get lost for days amidst the great oaks, expansive fields and wild deer that roam the land - and intends for the two of them to maintain their tradition of hunting. At first his father, Roman (Miroslaw Skibinski) appears happy to see him, greeting him with a big warm hug, though clearly frustrated that he doesn’t hear from his son more often.
Things start to unravel over dinner, as, scrolling through Robert’s photos of the aesthetically beautiful city of Birmingham, Roman stumbles across a picture of another man on a beach. The man is Michal. He’s Robert’s boyfriend. Roman, unaware of his son’s homosexuality, accepts Robert’s excuse that Michal is just a colleague, though clearly remains suspicious of Robert’s sexuality. Robert is putting off coming out of the closet to his father, who clearly has some deeply entrenched homophobia and regressive views over what it means to be a ‘real man’. Naturally, tensions sizzle, as Sadowski’s script paints the stark ideological and generational divide between father and son.
Sadowski’s script is well-written, a perfect guide of taking a simple concept and turning into a masterclass in tension. Despite their warmth embrace, both Robert and Roman are putting on disguises, and that creates a coldness. It’s almost a case of who will blink first - though we know that either way the outcome will likely be the same - further conflict. What is most impressive about Sadowski’s script is what is left unsaid. Each line is laced with a potent dose of subtext that further widens the divide between the pair.
The script further lends itself to the actors, who each deliver subtly delightful performances. Mikolaj Trynda is excellent as the tightly wound Robert, who is clearly on edge the entire film, scared, and possibly hopeful, that his father will discover his secret. Miroslaw Skibinski is similarly marvellous as Roman, the straight-laced man dead set on conforming to the traditional ways of their family, and hellbent on making sure his son upholds those same traditions. The two have believable chemistry - as though, just like their characters, they’ve known each other for years but have never really come to understand one another.
All this is beautifully captured by director Sadowski, who understands critically the importance of a well-framed shot, and how it can amplify the tension tenfold. Each shot purposefully reflects the characters, and though at times this can perhaps become overbearing and repetitive - particularly towards the end - it is nonetheless an impressively directed film.
A well crafted film in almost every aspect, ‘Tradition’ is an impressively tense journey into a cold family dynamic, as suspense slowly kills any semblance of love and care that previously existed.