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Woman Of…: Kinoteka Film Review

Two women stand one behind the other, facing the camera, looking sad in the film Woman Of...

Woman Of… is dedicated to telling a complete story of a man’s gender transition against a changing Poland, for better and worse.

At what point do we stop being one person and become another? Michał Englert and Małgorzata Szumowska’s striking Woman Of… (Kobieta Z ….) posits that change is a gradual, often painful process. In this case, it’s in the change of Andrzej (Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik) as he transitions from one gender to another. The film charts Andrzej’s life from young adulthood in the late 80s to today, and has a number of worthwhile things to say about sexuality, gender, and acceptance, but remains a flawed examination nonetheless.

The film breezes through the early stages of Andrzej’s life (when he’s played by Mateusz Więcławek), all while hinting at what’s to come without making it explicitly clear. He dodges military service because he has his toenails painted and is deemed mentally unfit, but he still plays rugby, drinks at the pub, meets Iza (Bogumiła Bajor when younger, and Joanna Kulig when older), and they marry and have a son. But he begins to be more and more curious about the opposite sex, always feeling like something isn’t right. He wears her underwear, and has trouble performing during sex. The latter causes him to visit a doctor for testosterone treatments, but he sells them to a local bodybuilder for cash. When confronted later by the doctor, he’s told to simply find an attractive prostitute, which will fix the problem.

The changing social atmosphere provides an interesting backdrop to the film, without drawing too much attention to itself. Woman Of… takes place in Poland, and a slow but noticeable shift occurs after the Iron Curtain falls early in the film. Andrzej and Iza attend a costume party together, where he dresses in lingerie. For all of the film’s dedication to telling the complete story of Andrzej – who later transitions to Aniela – there is undoubtedly some fat to be trimmed. The film’s 132 minute runtime could easily be cut down by at least 10 or 15 minutes without losing much. We spend time with Aniela’s family as they come to grips with her change, and there’s a subplot involving Aniela’s brother and a scheme to sell counterfeit cell phone cards. Both help to depict the changing social atmosphere – or lack thereof – but neither really feel essential to Aniela’s story.

A woman sits on the bed without a shirt and with arms closed together, looking to her side, in the film Woman Of...
Woman Of… (Kinoteka 2024)

Still, Hajewska-Krzysztofik and Kulig are electric together and separately. The film simply would not work without their grounded performances, especially as the dynamics of their relationship transition. In one of the film’s stronger stretches, we learn that in order to legally change genders in Poland, one must divorce their partner with a court proceeding and everything. Englert and Szumowska, who both wrote and directed Woman Of… give this segment of the film enough time to breath, allowing the emotional and logistical weight to fully sink in for its characters. For all the strife Aniela’s transition causes Iza, there is still an element of love between them, and their reunions later are smartly handled.

Authenticity is key for queer stories. Without it, a film risks feeling like it was made from an outsider’s perspective, or like it’s trying to convey a message above anything else. Though Woman Of… occasionally hits some bumps in the road with some clunky plot developments, it avoids some crucial narrative tropes, which helps to retain that feeling of authenticity. This is a film where a dedication to telling a complete story is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

The Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2024 takes place in venues across London 6 – 28 March, and Woman Of… (Kobieta Z ….) will be screened at the festival on 23 March, 2024. For further information and tickets, visit Kinoteka 2024’s website.

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