For fifteen years, Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) has been training to be a champion swimmer. When not at the gym or in the pool, he spends his time sexing his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) and dealing with his overbearing mother Ewa (Katarzyna Herman), who bares a disturbing resemblance to Norma Bates (for instance, she makes Kuba massage her shoulders while she’s in the bath—with him still nursing a Sylwia-inspired erection, no less). Out of a seeming boredom with the status quo, Kuba begins to be distracted by guys at the gym—even going to so far as to hook up with a guy who cruises him in the shower (although he freaks out about it leaves before he can finish).
When at an art gallery opening with his girlfriend, Kuba's distractions with the same sex draw him to Michal (Bartosz Gelner). Sylwia is quick to pick up on his seeming attractions, but, when he confesses that his love for her has only grown stronger, she lets it slide (while still keeping a suspicious eye on him). However, Kuba's intense magnetic attraction to Michal leads to the two of them hanging out more and more frequently—falling asleep in parking garages together, hopping onto freight trains together. After Kuba suddenly quits his training program after choking in the middle of a very important qualifying race, both Sylwia and Ewa fear for his future, thinking he is trapped in a world of daydreams.
Sylwia does very little to encourage Kuba's feelings for her, yet keeps her true emotions bottled up (thus rendering her the hardest character to sympathize with). Michal deals with his judgmental parents, trying to persuade them—and himself—that Kuba can make him happy. And Ewa does her best (or worst?) to interfere, promoting her own goals for her son. Yet no matter what path Kuba chooses, there will be consequences.
Writer/Director Tomasz Wasilewski wanted his film to “fill a gap in Polish cinema, which has lately been reluctant to tackle difficult contemporary stories.” And what could be a better example of a difficult contemporary story than one about the freedom to love whomever you choose. Kuba has a difficult enough time recognizing his own attraction to Michal without having to deal with the weighted expectations of family and also society (represented in the film by Michal’s judgmental neighbors and Sylwia’s best friend, Monika). It’s a tough world to navigate, and Wasilewski hopes that his film can make it just that more manageable.
While the film may be targeted at LGBT audiences (it’s the only LGBT drama at the Tribeca Film Festival this year), Wasilewski focused on making Skyscrapers appeal to a wide audience. We get the perspective of the older generation through Michal’s parents and Ewa. And through Sylwia and Monika (Olga Frycz) we get that heterosexual perspective of Kuba’s journey. Wasilewski certainly explores this story from every direction, which makes the characters’ choices (and driving motivations) all the more real. Everyone is so afraid of change, but isn’t variety the spice of life? And without an unhealthy dose of Disney in their childhoods, it seems the Polish lack the implicit propulsion to follow their hearts.
These perspectives are expertly captured in the intimate moments we have with the characters. Wasilewski’s attention to human behavior is effortless and powerful. He catches those lingering glances—of lust, of wistfulness, of disgust—to drive the story and express the minds of the characters better than dialogue sometimes could. You’ll be easily drawn to these introspective characters—especially the complex Kuba—eager to see if any of them can find what they truly want.
Floating Skyscrapers is one of the heavier dramas on this year’s slate. It’s a film that will make you feel a kaleidoscope of emotions. But it’s Wasilewski’s look at stark reality that makes this film so powerful. He knows how his film’s subject matter could be perceived and hopes that it could spur some change in social thought. Yet if he fails that—at least in Poland—he’s still made one incredible film.