Over the past years, Wojciech Staroń became the Polish documentary film-maker, who consistently makes us aware that the documentary film is art, that ordinary, mundane everyday life may conceal the deepest and the most convincing meanings. His latest film, "Brothers," awarded at the 68th International Film Festival in Locarno, is yet another proof that his creative output constitutes a value which cannot be overestimated.

Simplicity is the essence of things - these words come to mind when you watch "Brothers." It is a simple, modest film, avoiding showing off its technique and using flashy formal tricks. In all this, Staroń seems to be close to the most beautiful tradition of both the world and Polish documentary cinema under the banner of Robert Flaherty and Władysław Ślesicki, close to the cinema which primarily searches for and discovers the truth about man. In "Brothers," the documentary film-maker portrays the unhurried, everyday existence of the Kułakowski brothers. Almost 80 years after their exile to Siberia, the Kułakowski brothers decide to return to Poland, to begin their lives anew - this information appears at the beginning of the film. This new life of the brothers goes on far away from the tumult of the big city, in a small village in Warmia.  The rhythm of life is determined by repetitive activities, each of them is equally important and carried out and filmed with the same focus - mowing, a morning walk, physical exercise as well as painting landscapes by the younger brother.  Time filled with work, passion and constant communion with nature makes up transient moments of tasting life, the mystery of existence.  The protagonists' life is in some sense better, because it is more harmonious, communal, consistent with their inner landscape.

The Kułakowski brothers retained their humanity and enormous power, though their fates were dragged through the darkest events of the 20th century. My childhood was bare feet and mud, it was cold and hunger, it was exile and imprisonment, but the wings of my hardships raised me to the height of Brussels, speaks Alfons Kułakowski at the opening of his exhibition in the European Committee of the Regions. They constantly had to fight, to struggle with something, but at the same time, they tasted life, searched for its bright side, were together. This is exactly the essence of brotherliness. The fragments of archival 8 mm and 16 mm films by Mieczysław Kułakowski managed to capture this, too. What is recorded on these extraordinary tapes are transient moments of people who can give a particular flavour to their existence. And today, the brothers, who are almost ninety years old, have to stand on the threshold again and face adversities. After their house burned down, and they lost all their possessions, including all paintings by Alfons Kułakowski, they begin their life anew.    

This moment is the most dramatic thread of the film. What does Staroń do then? He gives the protagonists time, stands aside, waits, and we wait with him - there are changes in the landscape, in the seasons, there comes the time to accept the loss, the time of rebuilding, of another struggle and of hope.

Wojciech Staroń often emphasises that he makes his documentary films using methods usually associated with the technique of a feature film director. Of course, in his films there is no fiction or hidden staging, but the structure of his story has a fictionalised character. In all its simplicity and clarity, the film "Brothers" grows out of carefully collected and analysed facts. Staroń is today a rare case of a director who takes time to carefully make his films. In "Brothers," just like in earlier films by Staroń, not much is said. There is also the waiting, characteristic for Staroń, scenes, in which life is set in motion - birds soaring into the air, the sound of thunder which the protagonists listen to, the brothers entering an extensive field of oilseed rape. All these scenes are prizes for the patient film-maker, who can create the atmosphere of exceptional focus in his films.   


Daniel Stopa