Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Poland’s submission to the Academy Awards in 2005 was a black comedy called Komornik, or, in translation, Debt Collector. It’s a flat title that probably would have sounded punchier as “Repo Man,” if that title weren’t already so well known.

In any case, the film did not get nominated for an Oscar, nor does it seem particularly deserving of one; it’s a fun little movie of uneven quality.

Villainous Hero

Does a nice job of turning the universe against Lucek once he tries to change
Does a nice job of turning the universe against Lucek once he tries to change

The title character is Lucek (Andrzej Chyra), a repo man who is good at his job and who loves his work. He is hated by everyone he meets, but the audience will find him a likeable cad. Think of Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking and you’re getting close. When we first meet Lucek, he makes a grand entrance, barging into an intensive care room in a hospital, slapping “seized” labels on the emergency equipment and raising the pulse-rate beeps of all the patients.

I could watch a whole movie about Lucek and have a wonderful time cheering his badness. But director Feliks Falk, working from a script by Grzegorz Loszewski, lets the straightforward plot take center stage: Lucek has an epiphany. He sees the harm he’s doing to people, and he tries to have a change of heart. (Actually, the epiphany is characteristically self-serving. Lucek thinks he can win the heart of a girl if he proves he is not such a bastard.)

I would have preferred a film where the question of Lucek’s change of heart was less plot-heavy and more about the character himself. The filmmakers give too much weight to the real-world outcomes — whether he quits his job and dates the girl — and not enough weight to whether Lucek really changes as a person.

Naughty and Nice

But the movie does a nice job of turning the universe against Lucek once he tries to change. We start to see why a repo man has to be ruthless. The debtors start to look like leeches, and their excuses start to sound lame “You can’t take that; it’s not mine, it’s my wife’s.” “We’ve already made arrangements to pay. Call your boss, he’ll tell you.” A kinder, gentler debt collector would be doomed in such a world.

On a side note, a friend who speaks Polish tells me that the subtitles on this Facets DVD have been PG-ified. The language from the debtors and from Lucek is much stronger than the subtitles suggest. Maybe a more accurate translation would have given the movie that dark edge I was hoping for.

I wanted to see that Lucek had a black heart through and through, as in Thank You for Smoking. Barring that, I’d like to have seen a genuine change of heart (which would have made Debt Collector more of a romantic comedy). Instead, Debt Collector takes a middle road and it ends up being neither, which makes it ultimately unsatisfying, even if it’s a fun little film.