By Vanessa Nim (May 17th, 2018)
Directed by: Katia Priwieziencew & Igor Priwieziencew
Written by: Katia Priwieziencew & Igor Priwieziencew
Produced by: Katia Priwieziencew
Key Cast: Mirosław Haniszewski, Adam Bobik
Written and directed by filmmaking duo Katia Priwieziencew and Igor Priwieziencew, Leader is a sharp and introspective short film that uses themes of gender, powerlessness and anger in a fresh, politically-relevant take on the dangers of radicalization. The story depicts a meeting of an Alcoholics Anonymous-esque group for men deemed “pushovers” in their relationships with their wives or girlfriends. Run by the Leader (Miroslaw Haniszewiski), the meetings first appear as a form of group therapy aimed towards creating healthier relationships; however, things quickly escalate as the Leader’s methods make it clear that healthy relationships are not the goal here - the real goal is power.
Centering on the development of the groups newest member, Piotrek (Adam Bobik), Leader relies on and works with existing stereotypes about gender and relationship hierarchies to convey poignet messages about our perceptions of radicalism and extremist. With stellar performances from Haniszewiski and Bobik - including a ‘Best Actor’ win for Haniszewiski - the film illustrates the ease with which extremity is adopted when people feel powerless. Through Piotrek’s interactions with the Leader, the film highlights the dangerous influence of toxic masculinity and leads us down the steep road towards male violence.
The film opens with a voicemail message from Piotrek’s girlfriend (voiced by Katia Priwieziencew) questions, almost chastising, Piotrek because she believes he is still smoking despite her ‘condition’, which we later find out is pregnancy. Piotrek’s relationship to smoking is returned to throughout the film, operating as a reflection of Piotrek’s relationship to power.
Initially, in conversation with the Leader during break, Piotrek says that he does not smoke, that he quit. “Because she told you,” the Leader asks him. “Yes...She told me,” Piotrek feebly responds, and the Leader laughs.
The film goes on and we watch as the Leader berates Piotrek and the class with his lessons for regaining power, defending themselves and becoming men. Things get heated when Piotrek tries to refuse the Leader’s methods, but Piotrek eventually falls into the Leader’s teachings and releases his anger in a violent demonstration during a role playing activity.
Afterwards, as Piotrek stands alone outside the meeting building, enshrouded in darkness and silhouetted against the dreary grey backdrop, we see him dragging on a cigarette. “A smoker after all,” the Leader comments.
The change in Piotrek, from supposedly quitting smoking to taking long considered drags of his cigarette, perfectly encapsulates the films message about power. Not only is Piotrek’s choice to smoke an indication of his power gained in his relationship, but the symbolism of the act of smoking, of cigarettes themselves, is used to reflect the toxicity of his path to power. This duality is seen right on Piotrek’s face where Bobik has sketched a hardened look of clout so different from the boyish inquisition used throughout the beginning of the film.
Leader’s commentary on relationships, power and gender is poignant, effective and relevant. The film uses a common storyline, of men seeking manhood and recognition of power, and uses it to criticize the toxicity of the path used to achieve these gender stereotyped gratifications of manhood. Through this critique, Leader turns the tables on common rhetorics that paint marginalized groups as extremists and radicals and shines a light on one of the most dangerous forms of radicalization: masculinity.
- Vanessa Nim