Debt, 1999

A pair of decapitated, naked male corpses are recovered from the bottom of a frigid, isolated lake as a team of police officers processes the crime scene in the hopes of recovering their heads in order to aid in the identification of the victims. Observing the idiosyncratically violent and methodical nature of the crime, the lead detective immediately notes the cursory similarity of the murders to the signature method of execution by foreign gangsters operating within the country – a gruesome reality that can only lead to the probable motive of an apparent turf war that, in turn, could only serve to hinder progress in the apprehension of the perpetrators. The film then proceeds in flashback to reveal implicit themes of new beginning, economic opportunism, and upward mobility: initially, through a shot of a young entrepreneur named Adam (Robert Gonera) overseeing the site preparation of his plot of land for construction (and is further reinforced through the news of his impending fatherhood), and subsequently, through the image of his business partner Stefan (Jacek Borcuch) scaling an indoor rock climbing training wall, envisioning himself within the exotic destinations of his mountain climbing magazines. Armed with a carefully detailed business proposal for an exclusive agreement to distribute competitively priced scooters for an Italian manufacturing company, the partners soon find their plans thrown into upheaval when a seemingly secured bank loan is rescinded for insufficient collateral only days before their scheduled international meeting. With little hope of securing another loan in time for the meeting, Stefan’s recently reunited friend Gerard (Andrzej Chyra), offers to act as a go-between for his business associates in exchange for an undetermined percentage of the company profits. However, when Gerard returns with a dubious and financially-prohibitive proposal (undoubtedly engineered through syndicate connections), the partners soon find that they are unable to simply walk away from their persistent and ruthless intermediary. Spare, austere, and elegantly realized, Debt evokes the systematic dehumanization of Darezhan Omirbaev’s Killer in the depiction of opportunism, moral bankruptcy, and exploitation endemic within former Soviet bloc countries as people compete for survival in the anarchy and freedom of a new economy. Filmmaker Krzysztof Krauze captures the bleak and interminably cold landscapes of post-communist Eastern Europe that is similarly reflected in the cinema of Béla Tarr and Sharunas Bartas, creating a trenchant and provocative metaphor for the profundity of human desolation in the face of corrupted and broken idealism.

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