Piotr Domalewski’s I Never Cry (Jak Najdalej Stąd) is a funny, poignant, timely story about grief centred around a terrific lead performance from Zofia Stafiej.
17-year-old Ola (Zofia Stafiej) is desperate to pass her driving test, as her father – who’s been working abroad – has promised to buy her a car as soon as she does. But when a phone call informs her of her dad’s untimely death, she has to travel to Ireland and bring his body back to Poland. While jumping through various bureaucratic hoops, Ola finds out as much about herself as she does about her dad, and whether or not he kept his promise.
I Never Cry is ostensibly a film about grief. Ola and her dad’s relationship was difficult. She states how they purposefully didn’t know anything about each other, and she resented the fact that he left his family to work abroad. But the devastation of losing him is evident in every minor detail of Stafiej’s terrific performance. Ola appears to be a typical moody teenager: smoking despite adults’ disapproval; desperate for a car to have some semblance of freedom; prone to heavy drinking, getting her own way and not caring about the way in which she talks to others. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Ola is constantly straining to hold herself together. There’s hardly a moment when Ola isn’t on screen, and there’s a maturity to Stafiej’s performance that, ironically, emphasises how young she is, and how much raw feeling she’s struggling to contain at every moment. Dealing with the pressure of travelling abroad for the first time, navigating a foreign country and trying to make sense of nonsensical bureaucracy is a lot for anyone to handle, never mind a teenager who’s just lost their dad. It’s a truly impressive, captivating, debut feature performance.
Considering the rather dark subject matter, the film is surprisingly funny. Its bleak comedy is woven into the script – penned by Domalewski – in such a manner that it emphasises the bizarreness of Ola’s circumstances without seeming like too jarring of a tonal shift. It also helps make the more poignant parts of the film work. Domalewski lets the film linger on the moments in which Ola succumbs to feeling overwhelmed, to feeling confused or sad or angry and it feels real. It’s such a relatable feeling, to be in a situation in which you find things slipping more and more out of control and are desperately trying to tie all the threads together. The film doesn’t ever lose sight of Ola’s personal struggle, even as the process of bringing her dad home gets more and more convoluted.
I Never Cry is an intimate film that tells the universal story of the moody teenager who comes to learn that the world is bigger than them, but it also touches on the lives of working immigrants. The film delves into the harsh realities of working to provide for your family whilst hundreds of miles away, often in unpleasant conditions, as well as the feeling of abandonment from those back home, who are unable to appreciate the sacrifice from that faraway position. It’s delicately handled but directly addressed, focussed more on the human beings rather than the system, and Domelewski lets Ola’s position as the opposite side of that family dynamic be the means for the audience to see how tough of a life that can be, too.
And it’s that sense of humanity, from the array of supporting characters and Ola’s personal grief, that bolsters the film through both its drama and its comedy. I Never Cry is a gem that has something to say, and says it in a sensitive, relatable and genuinely moving way.
I Never Cry (Jak Najdalej Stąd) will have its New York Premiere at BAM’s “Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema” Series. The film will be screened April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform.