THE DEBT COLLECTOR (Feliks Falk, 2005)

After enduring the punishing experience of his gorgeously photographed Komornik, I am not likely ever to try watching another film by Poland’s Feliks Falk. There’s one lovely scene where the cold-hearted debt collector, whose tireless job dedication triggers in others rage, hate, heartbreak, even suicide, comes across his first girlfriend, now married, and they go off together for a cup of coffee and a draught of nostalgia—and I thought: okay; this matters; this isn’t anal compulsive, like everything preceding it. But I was wrong! Scenarist Grzegorz Łoszewski and Falk cannot let the moment live by letting go of the unexpected encounter—or by letting it help turn inside-out the collector’s response to the world and people, undoing the suppression of feelings that the performance of his inhuman job dictates. Oh, no; the two must meet again, under appallingly trite circumstances, and those instead will coax the collector’s humanity into the light of day. In other words, we were had; the one scene that seemed to matter was a set-up! The collector isn’t half as inhuman as Falk, who delights in manipulating us—with the collector’s former girlfriend’s sick child, no less! Here is cinematic cruelty at the Spielberg level.
     Like Ebenezer Scrooge, whose fable floats in and out here, the collector tries reversing course and making amends, to redeem himself from the past repossessions he has executed and to redeem the world from soulless capitalism; but do not expect the pleasant sentimental uplift of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The collector’s transformation and acts of sympathy, kindness and empathy, alas, do not fire up any change in Falk, whose film remains sadistic no matter what.
     If anyone ever asks, “What is the worst Polish film you have seen?” I now have a ready answer.

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