“Splendid Isolation”


Screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (4/5); Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)

What kind of movie would we have if Ingmar Bergman directed a sci-fi/fantasy film? That’s an intriguing prospect, one that’s precisely what’s on offer in this fascinating release from writer-director Urszula Antoniak. This surrealistic tale of two women on an otherwise-uninhabited island in the wake of some unspecified mass upheaval follows them through their largely unstructured daily lives. Their story primarily focuses on their unusual relationship, which takes the form of a less-than-veiled metaphor for the COVID-19 pandemic, characterized here by a quietly “polite,” but nevertheless unmistakable, power struggle between an aggressive authority figure and a reluctantly submissive everywoman. But there’s more to it than that, as becomes gradually apparent as the film plays out. What’s most impressive here, though, is that the minimalist narrative unfolds with remarkable symbolic subtlety, represented by the picture’s many deftly nuanced elements that are neither overly enigmatic nor unduly obvious, all eloquently enhanced by the film’s gorgeous cinematography and beautiful background score. It calls to mind the stories told in pictures like “The Pink Cloud” (2021) and “Embers” (2015), even though the nature of the seminal event in this story is never delineated (though, from the way things unfold, it’s not especially necessary either). Admittedly, some aspects of the story seem clumsily improvised, and others start out needlessly cryptic, but, once the symbolism of these sequences becomes apparent, they prove stunningly incisive, especially when interpreted on a collective basis. The result is an insightful, thought-provoking, economically told release that proves a film can successfully and expressively present meaningful material by showing more than telling, a model that more filmmakers would be wise to follow.