The Boot Factory
France, 2000, 88 min.
By opening with quite unusual framing – the main characters filmed from the neck and down without revealing their faces – the raw underground style of this film is implanted right from the beginning. It can also be interpreted symbolically: you only get close to people very slowly and never quite get inside their heads.
Lech Kowalski has found a unique microcosm in an abandoned warehouse just outside of Krakow which houses a boot factory. A very unique one. Its three owners – Lukasz, Piotr and Wojtek – are ex-cons and former drug addicts. They are punks, they live on the edge, but they have taken responsibility for their own lives and established a way to earn a living for themselves. They work 10 hours a day and turn out 80 pair of boots per week.
These individuals have already placed themselves (or were pushed) outside of society; they do not fit in many places. The reason they can function in the boot factory is because they work for themselves, and because they have created a very alternative working environment where friends drop by, hang out, listen to loud punk music. A very relaxed atmosphere, even though they work hard. Evenings are often spent partying, and especially drinking. It is an important element of their lifestyle, and here it can fit in.
It is not a bed of roses, however, and in contrast to classic drama, this film starts in a good period and moves to a bad: at the beginning they are all clean and have their lives sorted out. Piotr gets married and moves to an apartment with his wife, and they have a child together. But during the year in which the film follows the factory, things change – Piotr and Wojtek cannot stay clean. They fall back on drugs, Piotr’s wife leaves him, and Wojtek totally loses it. Only Lukasz stays on track and even expands his factory in the end.
Kowalski films his characters with solidarity. He follows them around with the camera, making an effort to let it look as raw, handheld, uncontrived, undigested and unplanned as possible. Just like their lives – raw and somewhat out of control. Style reflecting content – but at times so overly handheld you are actually aware of it, which also serves to keep a distance to the persons. Most of the time you just watch them working or partying – or both. Only a few times for brief moments when they talk about themselves do you feel you get to know a little about who they are and what they’re thinking. You keep too much distance to get really involved.
The force of The Boot Factory lies in the universe it uncovers and in the universe it creates through its crude, rough style.