Life Feels Good, directed by Maciej Pieprzyca, is a feature-length Polish film chronicling the adventures of a man named Mateusz, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age despite his mother’s best efforts to convince her family and the doctors that he is more than a vegetable. Narration makes clear from the beginning the truth of his mental capabilities as he struggles to tell the outside world of his understanding in order to gain access to the world of being known and knowing the world that he sees his siblings enjoy.
Rather than simplify or romanticize, the film portrays the complexity of Mateusz’s ordeal and the experience of his family around him. While often emotional, Pieprzyca directed a sometimes uncomfortable, often charming, and overwhelmingly witty and whimsical film. The combination of what feels like a futile struggle to be understood and an understanding of life gleamed from a sheltered and somewhat unconventional exposure to it leaves one unexpectedly fascinated.
Throughout the film, two different actors play Mateusz — the first, Kamil Tkacz, playing the young Mateusz who is endeared by his mother, resented by his sister, and enchanted with his father. His mother struggles to defend him from the doctor’s diagnosis and his sister’s judgment and to make him fit in a house where he is incapable of taking care of himself or proving her convictions about his mental capabilities. His father is neither coddling nor abrasive towards Mateusz, letting him in on the secrets kept from his mother and allowing him a secret glimpse of the stars he made explode into colors late at night.
David Ogrodnik plays the older Mateusz, who is forced by the whims of his married sister and aging mother to go to a center for the mentally disabled where his understanding of breasts and his relation to them develops, and where he is granted just as much screen time as he was at home to stare out windows and contemplate his identity. As his mother’s visits pause and dwindle in frequency, we see the strain of Mateusz’s condition on her and the emotional toll of this visible strain on Mateusz.
Between the images of stars and symbols denoting different sections of the movie, such as “wizard” or “boyfriend,” narration makes clear what the real boy who the movie was based on struggled for multiple decades to convey: that Mateusz is human. The humor, the awkward moments, the tangential discussion, and the lack of uniform sentimentality that characterize this film, rather than occurs in addition to, is itself the device that conveys the paramount message about Mateusz’s humanity.
The fact that anything else could have been expected is proof that this film is needed.
Life Feels Good
Seattle International Film Festival
Screenings: June 6, 7, and 8