Totem – Blood, drug and violence in a dazzled Poland

by Ettore Arcangeli. Translated by Gaia Venturini

Totem, a film by the polish director Jakub Charon, tells about the story of two brothers involved in the underworld of a town in southern Poland.

The younger brother Savage, once got out of prison, wants to join the local criminality proving his worth to the eldest Igor, who doesn’t allow him to be part of his gang. But the two get involved in a drug smuggling controlled by the Serbian Mafia. The situation gets very difficult to manage.

The film is not a classical gangster – movie. It’s Savage’s perspective that prevails. His gaze, often affected by cocaine and other drugs, is confused, hectic and disturbing. Evil and violence appear under a lens wich amplifies their destructive power on the human soul. Everything is uncertain, precarious and confusing. It’s not simple to follow the story. The audience is completely plunged in Savage’s messy life.

The autumn haze immerses the main characters in an unreal and suspended atmosphere. Savage almost blends with natural elements, like the haze and the sky. The whiteness of his skin fights with his actions, but it makes him part of a dying nature which perfectly matches with the falling parable of this young aspiring criminal.

The pallor of the brothers opposes the colour of blood, which plays a prominent role. It’s not about splatter or violence celebration. However the use of strenght often exceeds in these tribal like fights which result in a real massacre. The spectator lives the whole scene through the shoked sight of Savage, who finds himself far from the brutality of that underworld he wanted to live in.

Once inside the vicious circle of criminality, it’s difficult to get out of it. As we can see for Savage and his loved ones, especially after the disappearance of Igor that causes anarchy among the members of his gang.

Totem is a complex  film and difficult to understand without paying attention. It’s not a director’s fault, but a quality: the perceived chaos reflects the one in the main character’s mind.

The film wins the Critics Award at the Ravenna Nightmare Film Festival.

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