The frustrating ‘Huba’ overstates its point

A poster for the 2014 Polish film “Huba” or “Parasite.”

You can’t dress up a movie in artsy cinematography and expect it to connect. The fundamental work of cinema is meant to manipulate space and time, using both to tell a story. Directors Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal know this, but their story is too thin to be interesting. With the sounds of the human body replacing dialogue, it’s an often grating experience that asks a lot of its viewers. It sounds like a simple, sad story.

An old factory worker (Jerzy Gajlikowski) retires from his job and spends his days walking and sleeping. Until one morning, he awakens to his daughter (Joanna Drozda) and grandchild (Wojtek Slowik) in his bedroom. She barely acknowledges him, never once making eye contact. She wastes no time in making the apartment her own. They learn how to live together, but never speak a word.

To call it allegory would be a disservice, but to call it narrative doesn’t feel quite right. It’s somewhere between the two, making more emotional than literal sense. This can be frustrating at times as Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal’s style is self-consciously ponderous, like an imitation of a great movie.

To the Sasnals, the space between actions is more important than the actions themselves. It takes the old man longer to sit up in his bed than climb to his feet, for example. The camera is often planted in one spot as a result, and while the fly-on-the-wall effect is potent, it becomes frustrating. Past a point, the movie has said everything it can say. This idea of family, home and the audience as parasitic is fascinating, changing its host based on need, but by the 10th shot of the daughter eating damp food, it becomes nauseating.

It was a tough movie to watch. I wanted to appreciate it, but I also want to be entertained. Stimulated somehow. But for the father and daughter at the center of “Huba,” I felt nothing. No real attachment between them is emphasized; they just inhabit space and negotiate their relationship through begrudgingly rearranging their lives for each other. Watching them move those pieces into place can feel torturous, which is likely the point.

It makes sense. “Huba” owes a debt to the Italian neorealists, a movement that focused on the underclass and the use of non-professional actors. Movies like this focus on the mundanity of poverty. Routine is an important distraction from dire circumstances, after all. The problem is in this concept’s development on screen. We don’t see enough of this man’s motivation to make his daughter’s appearance consequential. It’s not that she’s unimportant, she just appears too abruptly to elicit much feeling.

Without that connection, the last half of the movie, which focuses solely on her, overstays its welcome. Keep in mind, this movie is only 69 minutes, but seems like more. The only evocative shot in the movie is the old man laying in the bathtub, cradling his grandchild and staring off. It’s pretty, but comes out of nowhere. It’s power is aesthetic and ends up being a reflection of the movie’s emptiness: it looks like something, but really it’s nothing at all.