Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s Autumn Girl (2021) is an imagined week in the life of the legendary Polish actress and cabaret singer Kalina Jędrusik (Maria Dębska). Though set in the early sixties, Autumn Girl is a film about the 2020s; Jędrusik is portrayed very much as she was but triumphing over systemic chauvinism and sexual abuse in the work place. Autumn Girl is an empowering fantasy that blends the progressive politics of the 2020s with sixties chic.
Katarzyna Klimkiewicz is at her best as a director when she’s handling the musical numbers. Autumn Girl is shot with a very shallow depth of field and with flat pastel colors that only feel animated during sequences with choreography and camera moves. The look of Autumn Girl is very similar to Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries where the sixties are rendered as a very plastic, candy colored, and uniformed world. The lack of nuance to the production design is largely due to the modest budget of the film which seems to be something Klimkiewicz has difficulty overcoming.
Aside from the musical numbers, the strength of Autumn Girl is in the performance of its lead, Maria Dębska. Dębska looks gorgeous in every scene and has an innate charisma that makes it impossible to look away from her. On top of that, she’s a terrific actor who is able to pull-off the difficult task of exuding confidence and vulnerability simultaneously.
Yet one couldn’t help but feel that, in making the narrative more relevant certain issues were neglected which would have given Dębska even more to do. Autumn Girl hardly touches on the fact that the station which broadcasted Kalina Jędrusik’s program was owned by the state and controlled by the Soviet government. The fact that Kalina Jędrusik’s highly sexual persona was an act of quiet resistance is never touched upon by the filmmakers, neglecting what is easily an equally empowering narrative to the one that was largely fabricated for the film.
Autumn Girl is a highly relevant film with enough qualities to recommend it, even if it is ultimately not as successful as it could have been. It’s a case of the visual not interacting with the dramatic in any discernible way. But there should be little doubt that Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s next film will be even better.