This psychological thriller about a woman experiencing amnesia poses an essentially cinematic question: Who are we without our memories?
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By Devika Girish
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In the opening minutes of “Fugue,” a blond-haired figure stumbles through a dark train tunnel in heels, climbs onto the platform and then squats to urinate in full public view. It’s a striking vision of a Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, though Agnieszka Smoczynska’s film is less about its heroine’s unraveling than about the pained process of her respooling.
The film soon skips two years ahead, as Alicja (Gabriela Muskala), now sporting a spiky brunette bob, is paraded on TV by a state psychiatrist. She has no documents or memories, no idea of who she is, until her family calls in and claims her as Kinga Slowika: a beloved daughter and wife, and the mother of a young son.
“Fugue” — named for Alicja/Kinga’s dissociative condition — follows its protagonist as she adjusts to an old life in the Polish suburbs that she no longer recognizes. Smoczynska builds a psychological puzzle out of subtle shocks to the system: quick reflexes that reveal Alicja’s muscle memories; gestures of love that don’t quite feel like love itself. Muskala turns in a gripping performance, pitched on the razor’s edge of the film’s central mystery: whether Kinga became Alicja by accident, or because her past life gave her reason to want to be someone else.
“Fugue” takes on an essentially cinematic inquiry: Who are we without our memories? When Kinga finally has a revelation, it’s triggered by home videos, records of the past untouched by the caprices of the mind. It doesn’t matter that the facts turn out to be underwhelming, because it doesn’t matter why Alicja left. The gutting question “Fugue” poses is whether any of us can ever go back to being who we once were.
Not rated. In Polish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. In theaters.
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