„Returns”, the most recent documentary by Krzysztof Kadłubowski, may, to put it mildly, surprise the audience who followed the events related to Smolensk air crash in television.

The idea for this film was born on April 15th, last year, when people gathered at Warsaw Chopin Airport were waiting for the plane carrying the corpses of those who died in Smolensk. Kadłubowski, watching the events at the airport apron, decided to register the preparations and rehearsals, which took place an hour before the ceremony.

Already the initial scenes surprise the audience. A plane lands at the airport. The officers take their places, stand to attention, wait in readiness. Slowly, ceremonially the back cargo door opens. As soon as the first soldier steps onto the platform, the funeral march from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 resounds. Slowly, in front of a wall of saluting officers, come soldiers carrying “something” (surely, coffins). After a cut, we see them carrying (just so!) “nothing”.

Kadłubowski’s documentary should be compared with TV accounts from this event. Firstly, the documentarian pays attention to moments which were not in the focus of the media. Although reporters informed about the rehearsals and preparations to the ceremony, this information was intertwined with statements made by, among others, politicians, guests, experts. Secondly, Kadłubowski used stylistics which today is not present in the television. The poetics of “Returns” resembles films from the so-called Karabasz school. The director avoided any kind of staging and focused exclusively on an astute observation of the reality. The lack of any off screen sound illustration is vital. The only sounds present are the clacks of soldiers’ shoes and the mentioned above Chopin’s funeral march. It should be added that the film is only seven-minutes long, and the cinematography is in black and white. This “crude” form evokes the mood of true mourning – ascetic and pensive. 

“Returns” draws the audience in – after seven minutes of intense reception, they look for the emotions which accompanied them during the screening; they feel the need of mourning, which the media accounts lacked and poetics which is not present today in television.

Krzysztof Kadłubowski on „Returns”: The Smolensk mourning was for me a time of intense work, filming, registering the events of that days. Waiting at the airport for the coffins with corpses, I witnessed all the rehearsals and preparations to this painful ceremony. I remember the rhythm of the shoes clattering on the apron, which emphasized the solemnity and grandeur of the moment. The coffins appeared in my eyes an hour before their real arrival. The idea for the documentary was born precisely at that moment – on the apron. Life writes the most improbable scenarios. „Returns”  is the best example. 

By Daniel Stopa

(Translated by Olga Brawańska)