Release date: 9 September 2009 (UK)
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Andrzej Jakimowski
Starring: Damian Ul, Ewelina Walendziak, Tomasz Sapryk, Rafal Guzniczak
Long days and early nights – summer can be boring, boring, boring if you’re a ten-year-old child. Growing up in a sleepy Polish town doesn’t help either. Sure, you have trains, pigeons and toy soldiers to play with, but who hasn’t? For Stefek, it’s a welcome relief when he spots the father that abandoned his family when he was born boarding a train. For his sister Elka, it’s a chance to teach her brother how to bribe fate; proving human hearts are harder to deploy than a load of squabs.
You see, Stefek is a bright and observant, intelligent child with oodles of imagination - which is a good thing. He also has no friends. This is a bad thing. It means his summers are spent engrossed in trains, eating watermelons, monitoring pigeons and distracting his sister’s potential boyfriend by persuading Jerzy to spend more time with him rather than with Elka.
When he isn’t doing all of the above, Stefek is attempting to bribe fate; manipulating it in order to make things happen the way he wants. Elka, being the master, insists that all you have to do is declare your purpose, sit back, and wait for life to catch up. Stefek, being the apprentice, has other, more impatient ideas. He believes you have to force it to happen, hurrying it along with military precision in order to reap its rewards.
Convinced that a stranger he spots on a train platform is his estranged father, Stefek decides this is the test that will ultimately prove his theory correct; his sister’s stubborn refusal to accept his claim only adds fuel to the fire. Elka, however, has other things on her mind than a destructive parent. She has an upcoming interview for a job that could change her life for the better – only her mother’s dependency on her to look after Stefek is hampering her progress.
Whereas she juggles babysitting her brother and boyfriend whilst washing-up at a local restaurant and trying to learn Italian to help land her that dream job, Stefan marshals toy soldiers and pigeons whilst urinating on her future employers car, trying to bribe fate with savings and sluts to bring his father back home. It’s no surprise when Elka misses the interview (twice); settling on God’s will to truly decide whether or not her family will be reunited once and for all.
It’s very hard to praise something in which not much happens. Tricks (or Sztuczki, its Polish title) does, after all, have a Sunday-afternoon-with-a-hangover feel to it – as in nothing is going on but you’re happy to go along with it. Rooted in tedious realism, how it sustains any level of interest for ninety minutes is at times baffling. It does have charm though. The two lead characters, Stefek and Elka, played by Damian Ul and Ewelina Walendziak respectively, cover up the cracks in the erratic plot with fine performances; their onscreen relationship believable and at times bewitching.
However, the story is too straightforward, lacking any kind of conflict whatsoever, even when Stefek manages to ruin his sister’s chances of landing her dream job by urinating on the business man’s car. The reason for their father’s estrangement is also glossed over as Elka tells Stefek that he was “trapped by a lady”. And that’s it. With no friends his own age (in fact he appears to be the only ten-year-old child residing in this post-communist town) Stefek relies on the most ordinary of objects to take on some kind of spellbinding significance. The trouble is he relies on them time and time again. Director Andrzej Jakimowski may as well just copy and paste the scenes involving pigeons, toy soldiers and throwing coins onto the railway track because they’re identical, adding nothing new each and every time.
Elka’s relationship with Jerzy, the man in her life, is confusing, as is his relationship with Stefek; seemingly preferring the company of the boy to hers. Other characters have no real significance to the wafer-thin plot at all – the sluttish neighbour and the used-car man shift the focus away from the story but add little, not even characterization. The film is only interesting when Ul and Walendziak are buzzing around the screen – Stefek competing against his sister as they attempt to bribe fate offering scenes of interest. In fact, the opening one involving a burger, a hungry dog and a homeless man is as good as it gets. The photography and observational direction manages to make this dreary town almost dream-like at times, but it can’t mask the humdrum premise that fails to captivate.
A subtle look into the world of a ten-year-old boy, Tricks offers little in the way of plot and often struggles to hold interest thanks to nonsensical characters and repetitive scenes. The two lead performances are commendable but Director Jakimowski’s train-wreck of a movie is more likely to carry you into a coma rather than its intended destination.