TIFF Next Wave: The Word
What is a rather typical teenage drama in theory turns into something deeply personal and powerfully observed when a high school couple falls out of romance.
While The Word on paper seems nothing if not familiar and standard, this Polish film from Anna Kazejak thrives on a stunning lead performance and a story that seeks the personal rather than the sensation.
We meet Lili (Eliza Rycembel), a woman about to leave high school with a tough exterior and what seems are controlled emotions. Clearly plagued, she attests to her boyfriend that she no longer wants to be with him; he has cheated on her, and she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Only, she sort of does. As she is confronting her feelings and trying to make a responsible adult decision, this high school student allows for her maybe soon-to-be ex a chance to rectify his actions in the next 24 hours.
That of course means he needs to prove his feelings while also removing this other girl from his life. It all seems reasonable.
So the audience ventures through this Polish high school, which seems utterly mundane in all the right ways. We have neither stereotypes nor clichés in these hallways. We watch this world through Lili’s eyes; Rycembel’s performance is remarkable authentic and vulnerable, especially as the plot unfolds and emotions and actions reach a critical mass.
That’s because there is a pivotal point amid these end-of-year celebrations where those on the cusp of adulthood must own up for their actions. Lili, however, almost exclusively acts unilaterally: her father lives in Copenhagen while her mother seems mighty preoccupied with her younger lover. Lili’s feelings and responses are both her own as much as they are reactions against the attitudes of her parents.
The Word has an uncomfortable undertone running throughout, deeply voyeuristic and unnerving, as if everything in this teenage world is on the verge of becoming completely sullied. Beautifully shot and powered by Rycembel, we have an intimate story about love and loss, about attempting to be in control of such common emotions that ultimately are uncontrollable.