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Strange Heaven is an emotional and engaging piece of filmmaking looking at the family unit from the perspective of a 7 year old. What should be a family’s heaven in a new country with boundless possibilities turns into hell for the couple and a strange heaven for their child.
Strange Heaven tells the story of a Polish family that emigrate to Sweden and the various ways in which they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings. The couple’s precocious 7 year daughter Ula (Barbara Kubiak) adapts effortless to Swedish and picks up the language with ease in stark contrast to her mother. However, a lie and a lack of appreciation of its impact sets in motion a dramatic series of events including the removal of Ula to live with foster parents and her parents decision to do everything and anything in order to reunite the family unit.
This film, Strange Heaven, is evocative of the 2012 film The Hunt written by Thomas Vinterberg with the central character played by Mads Mikkelsen. In that an innocent lie turns one man’s life upside down. Here, the little girl’s lie turns everyone’s world upside down. What is clever about Strange Heaven is the central core and the emotional intelligence of the film is squarely at the level of a 7 year old. One scene beautifully illustrates this when she is given the opportunity to confess but because she has always wanted a dog which her new foster has so she decides to remain silent.
The writer/director Dariusz Gajewski directs this film with great ease and it slowly draws you in. There are times when the film could do with certain characters developed especially the social worker as she comes across as a caricature – the embodiment of the big bad State. However on the whole this is a refreshingly different take on the impact of a lie told by a child whilst deftly avoids demonising the child.
Strange Heaven was shown as part of New Polish Cinema in the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 7 to 28 April 2016.