Success Is the Best Revenge (Skolimowski, 1984)

After watching three of his films, it’s brutally clear Jerzy Skolimowski uses sound design very differently than most other directors. His Success Is the Best Revenge, an enigmatic abstraction of Polish history and national identity, relentlessly overlaps audible patterns even when the images themselves don’t relate. In essence, sound becomes the connective tissue of the film, disavowing the notion visual continuity is reliable when documenting historical perspective. This approach comes to a crashing crescendo when Skolimowski’s theater director Alex (Michael York) finally puts on his magnum opus, clashing live action reenactments of Polish conflict with edited archival footage. It’s a devastating climax leaving plenty of crucial narrative questions unanswered.

But Success Is the Best Revenge also advances themes found in the director’s other films, namely the relationship between adolescents with the adult world of sex and politics. Alex’s teenage son Adam (Michael Lyndon) maneuvers through the film as a willful adult trapped in a child’s body, seducing a female classmate, resenting his father’s blatant weaknesses in sport and character, and finally trumping Western English life entirely and returning to Communist controlled Poland. His actions are just as calculated and arrogant as his father’s, but far more idealistic and tangible. Skolimowski inserts a seediness into Adam’s exploits, as if  the boy needs to experience the extreme freedom of capitalistic society before returning to his forgotten homeland. To distort perception and reality even further, Skolimowski fractures the connection between character identity and physical location, expanding the heightened visual frenzy of Deep End and menacing emptiness of The Shout into a Godardian deconstruction of time and space.

This river of visual and temporal uncertainty feeds back into the endless ocean of sound absurdly crowding the viewers senses. Contradictions abound in this department, including one stunningly random moment when Adam and his female building inspector begin making love in a closet, only to be interrupted when workers begin ripping the roof off from above. As insulation and drywall fall on their faces, the lovers continue with their brazen escapades, just one of the many crazy moments pushing this film further into cinematic oblivion.

While not as potent as Skolimowski’s 1970’s work, Success Is the Best Revenge provides plenty of theoretical and metaphorical baggage to mull over, including a conniving generational competition between father and son best signified during an early soccer game.  Most of all, this film shows Skolimowski at his most rigidly confrontational, exploding an avalanche of problematic symbols and ideas to address the frigid battle for psychological allegiance between East and West. In this game revenge represents neither success or failure, just natural instinct.

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