Daniel Kiniry reviews Piotr Domalewski’s Irish-Polish, coming-of-age drama that explores the complications of family bonds and the cost of separation.
Ola (Zofia Stafiej) is a sullen and acerbic Polish teenage girl who lives with her forthright traditionalist mother (Kinga Preis) as they are supported by her father working in Ireland. As she waits for payment on a car from him, the family get a sudden call that he was suddenly killed in a workplace accident. Ola is forced to travel to Dublin to pick up his corpse and return it for burial, where she’s forced to confront the bureaucratic and expensive experience of resolving the burial rights as well as confronting her own relationship with a father she never really knew.
It’s rare we ever really get the experience of a Polish expatriate in Ireland quite like how I Never Cry covers it. Rather than having it reflected directly from someone working and living in this country, it’s instead shown through a family member coming in and learning about it with fresh eyes. It allows us to get that insight of culture shock from our European neighbours, from workplace politics and how they can write off injuries on the job to, rather amusingly, the difference in cigarette prices.
But it’s more than just a pointed observation of bureaucracy and greed that can occur towards the experience of visiting here. Most of this is done to reflect the desperation and frustrations of our lead. I Never Cry rather astutely hones in on how expatriation driven by economic necessity can separate families and how difficult that can be. Ola doesn’t really know her father and holds a lot of resentment towards him because of that, further complicated by his passing. Zofia Staflej rather carefully balances that line of being bitter as well genuinely curious and longing for connection. It’s a nuanced portrait, and she really carries the film between this and her hilarious no-nonsense assertiveness. Her barging into places bullheadedly is always amusing.
The only real complaints I have are more from personal taste, and that it’s a bit too mean-spirited in parts. I think the observations on Irish bureaucracy and expatriation do hit well, and this is done to push our lead into a more frustrating and difficult situation, but it can get a bit too miserable at parts for my own taste. This does make the brief moments of genuine humanity really shine through having said that. Also, there’s a subplot with a boy Ola is flirting with, and I feel that could have easily been cut as it doesn’t really add anything and they only devote two or three short scenes to it.
Written and directed by Piotr Domalewski, I Never Cry is a really strong and suitably observant tale of a young girl reconciling her relationship with her father who was never there. Its rough edges may turn people off, but it’s also funny, has some well defined characters who burst with personality even in minor roles and has a great final shot. While it’s not a perspective I can personally resonate with, I can imagine it hits home for a lot of people who’ve either had to move here or have loved ones live in a completely different country permanently. It’s smartly told and strongly emotionally resonant with a cheeky sensibility.
I Never Cry is released in selected cinemas and digitally from 23rd July 2021.