Locarno 2021 ‘The Balcony Movie’ Review: A Tapestry of Human Experiences

© Łoziński Production

Over the course of two years, Polish documentary director Paweł Łoziński studies the lives of people walking by, while he’s standing on his apartment’s balcony.

Directed by: Paweł Łoziński
Year: 2021
Country: Poland
Length: 100 minutes

The premise of this documentary is very simple: Director Paweł Łoziński stands outside on the balcony on the first floor of his apartment in Warsaw, Poland. He points his camera and microphone towards the sidewalk, while waiting for people to walk by. Whatever happens next fully lies in the hands of said pedestrians.

The Balcony Movie unfolds in interesting ways. Over the course of two years, Łoziński has managed to conduct over a thousand interviews from his balcony. The documentary shows around 80 conversations between the director and pedestrians passing by. Each chat is unique and has a different tone, made possible by each of the people passing by having a different relationship with the director. We see family members, neighbors, but the most interesting conversations in The Balcony Movie are the ones the director has with the people he doesn’t know too well yet. Some of the people appear just once, while other people’s arcs run like a thread through the film.

One of those arcs is that of a man sitting in front of the apartment complex. The first time we see him, he tells that he’s getting ready to have his picture taken for his new ID. The director offers him a shirt of his to the man, who appears to be worried about not having decent clothing to wear. The man thanks the director and promises to bring the shirt back soon, but Łoziński tells him to keep it.

Upon his return, later in the film, it becomes that the man is homeless and needed to obtain an identification card in order to get a job. He needed a job in order to get a safe place to stay. He asks a passerby for change, but the man refuses.

© Łoziński Production

Another story is that of an elderly man. He reaches out to Łoziński and tells him that he’s mourning the death of his friend. At first it seems that this man has lost a buddy who was very close to him, but after a while the man decides to open up and makes a brave confession to the director. The man who he’s lost wasn’t just a friend, but his partner whom he had shared his life with for forty years. The passerby is visibly anxious while sharing this story, which is understandable, in a society that doesn’t fully accept him for who he is. However, the longer the conversation lasts, the more of a relief you can see on his face that he’s found comfort in sharing this essential part of his identity.

Had these conversations not taken place, these men would’ve remained just two faces in the crowd to us and Łoziński, only to be forgotten in the next moment.

Although simplistic at first sight, the stylistic elements in The Balcony Movie work perfectly and seem to be deliberately chosen to create a more effective experience. The techniques this documentary applies to achieve its goals are in multiple ways similar to that of some of the greatest auteurs in cinema; in particular Swedish director Roy Andersson. As in a Roy Andersson film, characters are viewed from above, in mostly static shots. Not only does this give the viewer the space to observe these people and their movements, but also, along with the fence that’s between the two parties, provides the pedestrian the space to move comfortably on the sidewalk, their stage.

© Łoziński Production

The fence and distance between the director and pedestrian turns what could otherwise be a discomforting and anxious experience for both interviewee and viewer to something bearable. The interviewee is free to either walk away whenever they want or ignore simply Łoziński, without feeling threatened by him. Setting this boundary causes only the people who are genuinely interested in and comfortable with this project to engage in it.

Again, just like Andersson’s works, Łoziński focuses on the mundane and uses snippets of the human experience that would otherwise be taken for granted. Those snippets are later put together to create an impactful tapestry of human experiences. One that makes us reflect on our own interactions with others.

All the different stories and reactions from the pedestrians in The Balcony Movie add up to the notion that every person out there has their own story, dreams and burdens. What this documentary does is giving a voice to all those who have passed you by, who you have exchanged a glance with or who have politely smiled at you for a brief moment, before leaving your field of view, never to be noticed by you again.

The Balcony Movie premiered at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival.

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