I Never Cry (2020)
Director: Piotr Domalewski
Cast: Zofia Stafiej & Kinga Preis
Language: Polish (with optional English subtitles)
Runtime: 100 mins
Release Date: 11th October 2021
Jamie Havlin gives his verdict on the latest release by Montage Pictures, a new Polish film which has drawn comparisons to the cinema of Ken Loach.
During her latest attempt at passing her driving test, 17-year-old Ola (Zofia Stafiej) experiences a couple of minor blips such as her ringtone going off. The examiner makes it plain that he doesn’t approve of its ‘fucking police’ rap, but it looks like this could be third time lucky for her.
Without warning, a car pulls out. She swerves to avoid a collision. Out of their cars, both drivers blame each other for the potential accident. She kicks off his front numberplate, and the pair get involved in a physical fracas. Her examiner moves in to break things up and ends up being knocked to the ground. It looks like this might escalate into a job for the ‘fucking police’ to sort out. The other driver realises this and apologises to him.
Guess what? She is failed.
Ola’s been desperate to pass the test as her father – who’s been working in Ireland for half her life – has promised her the money for a car once she passes. Before she has time to borrow enough cash to try again, the family receives the news that he has been killed in an industrial accident while working at the docks in Dublin.
Shock and grief can hit people differently. Ola’s clearly no Daddy’s girl, but her main initial concern is still surprising. Her father may be dead, but her sense of self-entitlement lives on. She wonders if he had saved enough for the promised car.
She’ll soon find out first-hand. As her mother looks after Ola’s brother Pawel as a carer and doesn’t speak any English, the task of arranging for the body to be identified and brought back home is forced upon Ola. This isn’t going to be easy, especially for a girl who’s still at school and has never travelled abroad before. And once she arrives in Ireland, there’s no shortage of bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through.
Marching along city centre streets, Ola visits the job agency he signed up with and barges past the long queue waiting there. She visits the site of the freight container company where her father died and the crappy hostel where he lived for a while. There are complications. Plenty of complications.
‘What weight was your father?’ a funeral director asks. He’s met by a blank look. She doesn’t know his middle name either.
Presented at a morgue with the paltry belongings found on his person at his death, Ola immediately smokes one of his ciggies and makes a start on his half bottle of booze.
She’s impulsive, sarky as hell, opportunistic and capable of behaving appallingly – even to the point of attempting to blackmail a man into helping her by threatening to falsely claim he tried to sexually molest her. She’s also vulnerable, although she does everything in her power to hide that aspect of her personality and she can be supportive and genuinely kind to her brother at least.
During her time in Dublin, she begins to gain some important insights into the life of her father from those who in recent years had seen much more of him than she had. Crucially, she also learns about herself.
Hard-hitting, heartbreaking and scattered with humour, I Never Cry has been compared to the cinema of Ken Loach, but you never feel that Domalewski is manipulating viewers here quite as comprehensively as Loach has attempted to in some of his films.
The last ten minutes might not be entirely believable, but I was always impressed by Zofia Stafiej. Seldom out of the frame, she is easily the best thing about the film, and it will be interesting to see her again in whatever she does next.
Special features include a limited collector’s booklet featuring an essay on the film by critic Anna Smith.
For more on the release click here.
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.