Rage, a new thriller playing at this year's Polish Film Festival in America, feels like a throwback to the cinema of moral anxiety, a movement of the late 1970s and early '80s that used interpersonal stories to examine social codes and political forces inside Communist Poland. The film centers on an amoral journalist for an ultraconservative cable news network who suffers an attack of conscience over various personal and professional concerns, and Michał Węgrzyn, directing a script he wrote with Marcin Roykiewicz, shows how the journalist's treatment of people at home and at work mirrors his engagement with the public. He and his coworkers are cynical, greedy, and contemptuous of their viewers; the protagonist is also a philanderer and a liar, and he's mean to his mother. His behavior represents an internalization of his employer's worldview.
The movie's social outlook may recall such moral anxiety classics as Krzysztof Zanussi's Camouflage (1977) and Krzysztof Kieslowski's Camera Buff (1979), yet Rage feels like a Hollywood action movie in its fast pace and consistent suspense. Węgrzyn and Roykiewicz devote little time to introducing the protagonist, Adam (Jakub Świderski), before putting him into an intense situation. On work nights, Adam leaves his wife and kids to work out at the gym, where he hooks up with his mistress. His wife, Edyta (Paulina Chapko), learns of his infidelity and calls Adam to confront him as he's leaving the gym to run home. In a rage, she threatens to murder their children if he doesn't get his mistress to apologize to her within the hour. Adam resolves to run home—a distance of 12 kilometers—before the situation gets any worse. Between frantic calls to his wife and mistress, he also contends with a breaking story at work, a news source demanding a payment, and sobbing confessions from his mother.
Węgrzyn deftly juggles the various forces in Adam's life while maintaining a strong sense of forward motion. He also makes impressive use of Warsaw's streets and expressways, conjuring up a dark and dangerous environment as a physical analogue to Adam's anxiety. Given the suspenseful premise, you can't help but sympathize with Adam—you want to know whether he'll resolve his various crises, learn from the experience, and change his ways. In learning to be honest with his wife, will he also stop deceiving the nation with biased reporting? Rage makes this question feel like a matter of life and death, cannily employing a race-against-time narrative to convey the urgency of Adam's moral reckoning. v