Michal Marczak’s All These Sleepless Nights explores loneliness and liberation in a Poland finally free after decades of occupation and war. This article was originally published on Feb. 26, 2016 as part of our 2016 Sundance Film Festival Coverage.
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Narrative or documentary? Polish director Michał Marczak isn’t afraid to blur the lines, creating a captivating and dynamic story in his latest nonfiction film, All These Sleepless Nights. Marczak employs a fly-on-the-wall perspective, as he follows two twentysomething art students and friends, Krzysztof and Michał, across a year and a half of endless nights partying through Warsaw. Sleepless Nights explores loneliness and liberation in a Poland finally free after decades of occupation and war.The film is a never-ending whirlwind of girls, drugs, and smoke...and the loneliness in between them.Click To Tweet
Without interviews, talking heads, or a narrator, the film looks like fiction while remaining nonfiction. The film is a never-ending whirlwind of girls, drugs, and smoke that’s not actually about girls or drugs or smoke, but the loneliness in between them. Perhaps Krzysztof’s and Michał’s friendship is the only constant, but then again, perhaps that’s not even constant. In one fleeting moment, Krzysztof finds love with Eva, Michał’s ex-girlfriend, which staves off his unhappiness until this, too, fades.All These Sleepless Nights explores loneliness and liberation in a Poland finally free after decades of occupation and war.Click To Tweet
We act out the “most spectacular version” of ourselves, Krzysztof says, when living and when romancing. Sleepless Nights shows us the most and least spectacular versions of Krzysztof. We see him alone post-breakup, but also with his friend Michal, in a hilarious morning-after, laughter-filled garden romp. It’s a constant of searching, desperation, longing, feeling on top of the world, dancing while high, loving while half-sober, and more searching.
Marczak’s camera dances around his characters, lingering on a wisp of smoke and a caress on the cheek with equal care. Marczak follows Krzysztof from his elegant but lonely high-rise apartment, to crowded dance floors, to underground train tunnels, to radiant beaches, and back again. Michał and a cigarette are almost always in tow. Dorota Wardęszkiewicz’s editing creates a perfect, tight rhythm that makes us feel like we’re there every night.Marczak’s camera dances around his characters, lingering on a wisp of smoke and a caress on the cheek with equal care.Click To Tweet
Youthful sleepless nights aren’t a new story to us, but they are new to the Poland I know. After decades of war and communism, the country is largely working-class, conservative, and Catholic. Grey communist bloc buildings still dominate. When I visited, my grandmother even worried about me going to a music festival that strongly discourages drugs. Many young, educated adults with the means move elsewhere; many of those that remain don’t have the money to party like this.
When I spoke to Krzysztof at Sundance, he said the film hadn’t screened in Poland yet, and he didn’t know what the reaction would be. In Amsterdam, this story might be old hat — but for Poland, the economic ability to party with such reckless abandon is shocking. Poland has become a country where students no longer spend their free time protesting communism.
This partying, full of egocentrism and longing, is a youthful trope the world knows well, but Sleepless Nights shows it in a beautiful and dynamic way. Not everything translates perfectly to English, and some of its insights may be lost because it doesn’t provide any context about Polish history. But it is gorgeous and interesting enough to still be compelling. Its questions about what it means to be alive or alone will still resonate.Marczak pushes the envelope on what documentary means with this series of nonlinear, narrative-esque stories.Click To Tweet
“I look for what I’m missing,” Krzysztof says, but he may not find it. The liberation of partying isn’t his be-all and end-all, isn’t enough. At the end of the film, he sits alone on the grass of a park in a pink bunny costume with a megaphone. He compliments couples passing by to general amusement: “You have beautiful legs! sorry, sir, but your wife does have beautiful legs.” It’s sweet. He’s sober. He’s alone, but not lonely.Exposes the excitement and tragedy of young adulthood in a country still reacting to its past.Click To Tweet
Marczak pushes the envelope on what documentary means with this series of nonlinear, narrative-esque stories that make up All These Sleepless Nights. He exposes the excitement and tragedy of young adulthood in a country still reacting to its past. We live and breathe and dance with Krzysztof for 100 minutes, discovering the world in between dusk and dawn, at once with him and separated from him.