Although short on originality, "Retrieval" punches above its weight with beefy genre tale of an essentially decent young pugilist (impressive newcomer Antoni Pawlicki) who provides muscle power for a gangster. Burnished tech package and buffed screenplay by Fabricki, Denijal Hasanovic and Marek Pruchniewski could help Polish helmer Slawomir Fabricki's feature debut go a good few rounds on both home and fest circuits, and maybe a fighting chance offshore in select territories.
Stuck in no-hope town of Slask, Poland, where unemployment is high and money scare, 19-year-old Wojtek (Pawlicki) quits his job at the concrete factory when a co-worker is seriously injured on the job. Wojtek is desperate for cash so he can move in with his g.f. Katja (Nataliya Vdovina), an illegal Ukrainian immigrant somewhat older than him with a kid, Andriy (Dmytro Melnychuk), from a previous marriage.
Opportunity knocks when Wojtek, a keen amateur boxer, catches the eye of businessman Gazda (Jacek Braciak) who offers Wojtek a job as a bouncer at his nightclub. Before long, fellow bouncer-cum-thug Kalafior (Wojciech Zielinski) is showing Wojtek and his dim buddy Baton (Michal Filipiak) -- whom Gazda's also hired on Wojtek's recommendation -- the ropes of the company's real revenue-earner: loan sharking. Screenplay adroitly braids together Wojtek's rise up the criminal corporate ladder at work and his disintegrating relationship with Katja at home in the spacious apartment he can now afford. Secrets blow up like bombs in well timed intervals as pic charts Wojtek's moral gradual decay through exposure to Gazda.
Pawlicki looks just a bit too old for the age he's supposedly playing but still anchors pic with precocious authority, appearing puppy-dog playful one minute, and bearishly brutal the next. The p.o.v. cleaves to his character throughout, but even so supporting roles, well filled by Braciak and Vdovina especially, get enough sparring time with him to develop fully. Streets of location Slask look mean indeed, while production design by Wojciech Zogata goes easy on the bling with interiors at nightclub and Gazda and Wojtek's homes, subtly making the point that there's not really all that much money at stake at the top.
Frequently handheld lensing directed by Bogumil Godfrejow, who also shot Berlin contender "Requiem," is very much in the Lodz filmmaking school tradition that revels in gray-toned grit. Expressionist sound design by Joanna Napieralska, cutting to silence at strategic points, also impresses.
Camera (color), Bogomil Godfrejow; editor, Jaroslaw Kaminski; production designer, Wojciech Zogata; costumes, Aneta Flis; sound (Dolby Digital), Piotr Knop, Michal Zamecki; sound designer, Joanna Napieralska. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 25, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.