Son (dir. Ryszard Czekala): a solid, powerful short about rural-urban and generational division

Ryszard Czekala, “Son / Syn” (1970)

This short silent animation piece is one that Polish animator Ryszard Czekala is best known for and it’s easy to see why: its themes of rural-urban divide, generational separation, isolation and abandonment are universal. A rich businessman from the Big Smoke visits his parents on their remote farm: the elderly folk are glad to see him come back and serve him the best meal they can offer but the son spurns their humble lifestyle, reads his newspaper at the dinner table and races back to the city as soon as he is done with visiting. The parents are puzzled at his behaviour but resume their tilling and other work.

The animation looks dark and heavy but carries a sure solid power especially in scenes in which the farmer and his bullock are dragging a plough through heavy soil. The farmer and his wife have tired, worn faces and hands and fingers used to heavy labour over many years. I have the impression they have waited for a long time, years stretching into decades perhaps, for their son to return. Return he does but the long-awaited reunion is a disappointment. The film briefly touches on the couple’s bemused expressions and for a moment I think they are perhaps glad to see him leave, having observed his shallow and supercilious behaviour, before they pick up the rhythm of their lives again.

No dialogue is needed to convey the psychological and cultural chasm between the parents and their son as all that we need to know happens in their actions and in a small scene in which the son knocks a piece of bread off the table but fails to pick it up, expecting his parents to do so as if they were servants. They do so but not because they are his servants; every bit of food is precious sustenance.

It’s a paradox that sometimes the most powerful messages are delivered by short silent films such as this little work. Makes me wonder why I still bother to watch feature-length films sometimes.

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