This sophomore feature by director Piotr Domalewski is an emotionally effective blend of drama, political comment, and bleak, acid-tinged comedy. It was produced and shot in Poland and Ireland, and showcases the more complicated side of life within the European Union.
Ola (Zofia Stafiej) is a defiant Polish teen. We first encounter her while failing her third driver’s test. She has an agreement with her father, who works overseas in Ireland: if she can qualify for a driver’s license, he will buy her a second-hand car. The deal never comes to fruition. Before long word comes that her father has died in an industrial accident in Dublin, and with her mother caring for Ola’s disabled sibling she is the only family member left to travel to Ireland, claim his body, and have it repatriated back to Poland.
Polish emigration into the European Union has been widespread since its entry to the labour market in 2004. Individuals drawn abroad by better pay and job opportunities regularly send portions of their income back home to help support their families. Domalewski’s film explores this phenomenon well in I Never Cry. Ola barely knows her father, as he has been away in Ireland for much of her life. The only real connection they share is his promise to buy her a car, and it is that promise that drives Ola to travel to Dublin and claim his body.
Ola is a great character. She bristles with anger, and is quick to lash out. She is young and foolish enough to make serious mistakes, yet smart enough to recognise when she makes them. Unpacking her resentment against her father, and how she processes her rage and grief, forms the emotional core of I Never Cry. The film relies heavily on Zofia Stafiej’s performance, and she does not disappoint. It is awards-worthy stuff.
Ola’s task becomes all the more difficult – and the film all the more rich – when it becomes clear how she barely knows her father. There is a gulf of ignorance between what Ola expects and what she finds, as she is forced to piece together his life after the fact. It is grounded in a stark sense of realism. Nothing seems over-the-top or unbelievable, and with Domalewski keeping a strong hand on the narrative even small and subtle discoveries can feel devastating.
Thankfully there is also a well-judged seam of sharp, bitter humour that runs throughout. It is a smart style of comedy, based in character and bracingly sharp at times. In moments it can provoke outright laughter. At other times it simple enriches and humanises the characters.
I Never Cry does not appear to have arrived in Australia as yet – this review is based on a recently released British bluray. Hopefully it will be released here soon, as it deserves a broad and appreciative audience. While it may superficially seem focused on European issues of immigration and foreign labour, at its heart it is a story about people – and very real experiences of love, grief, and understanding. Track it down if you can.