The Beksińskis. A Sound and Picture Album
The Beksińskis. A Sound and Picture Album is a documentary based on a book by Magdalena Grzebałkowska, which is based on the life of painter Zdzislaw Beksinski. A collection of home videos, news footage, diary entries, and essays, the documentary takes the rich history of an artist’s home life and crafts an accessible portrait of a strained father/son relationship.
Zdzislaw is a world renowned Polish painter. His surrealist, nightmare-inspired and inspiring paintings afforded him both fame and a fairly comfy living in post-war Warsaw. The Gothic and sculptural paintings are dark and grim, but the artist himself comes across as a jovial man who doesn’t mince his words. The voiceover throughout the film is candid in his relationship with art and his family. It might seem that some of his harsher comments were never meant to be read aloud to others, but some of the later footage makes it clear that this candor exists in his everyday life.
The film shows some of Zdzislaw’s art and his career’s trajectory, but its primary focus is his relationship with his son. Tomasz was at odds with his parents early on. His lifelong depression made many days a struggle, and this put a strain on every aspect of his life. In home movies, we see him struggle with being given affection as a small child, and fight with both parents as an adult. Some cultural factors may be lost in translation, but when a mother asks her grown son to make his own meals and he groans, it’s clear that his development into autonomy was not complete.
The truly staggering aspect of The Beksińskis that makes it engaging beyond its story is the sheer mass of candid footage. Zdzislaw loved his cameras and gadgets, and he seems to record everything. Some footage is to document his creative process, but he also holds on tight to his camcorders through family meals, his mother-in-law’s health struggles, and even just walking from room to room in their apartment. The constant documentation occasionally irks his family, but lends a unique depth of intimacy to the documentary. While hearing his words, we also see his son through his lens, and the impact is powerful.
The Beksińskis is a wonderfully edited glimpse into the relationship between painter and son. The access afforded by a constant parade of personal movies and personal writing make for a compelling examination of two people trying their best not to be miserable.