This striking first film by Polish director Damian Kocur, created with non-professionals and influenced by a real-life violent event, exudes a cold and uncompromising clarity and meticulous composition. It was awarded the special jury prize at the 2022 Venice Film Festival.
Tymoteusz Bies, a real-life Polish pianist, portrays Tymek in the film. Tymek is a talented young man studying piano at Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. He has returned to his uneventful hometown, potentially based on Ełk in the northeast, for summer break. All of his childhood friends are settling for mundane jobs and unfulfilling lives. While Tymek is happy to be reunited with his mother, who is also his music teacher, and his brother Jacek (played by his actual brother Jacek Bies), he is confused and annoyed by the fact that Jacek, despite his own piano skills, is not putting in the same effort to obtain a musical scholarship like Tymek.
Jacek appears to be satisfied with his relaxed life in this dismal town, where there is a prevalent attitude of racism, Islamophobia, and homophobia. This bigotry is often directed at a local Tunisian kebab shop, whose hardworking owners have not received the traditional Polish welcome of “bread and salt.” Tymek, on the other hand, is not interested in discussing his love life with Jacek, including whether he has a girlfriend in Warsaw. However, something unexpected occurs – Tymek takes pleasure in his fame among his old friends in this town. He happily spends his summer playing basketball, listening to their freestyle rapping, and even joining in on their racist jokes while drinking endless beers. Although he wants to bond with his brother, their relationship ultimately ends in disaster.
There is a particularly memorable scene in which Tymek’s mother asks him to watch over a young student for a short while. The child, who is a talented piano-player, is waiting for his mother to pick him up from school. Tymek, who was also a skilled pianist at the same age, is expected to be kind and supportive towards the child. However, he instead responds with harsh and demanding instructions, reminiscent of traditional classical music teaching methods. This behavior is also seen when he listens to his brother play the piano, criticizing and belittling him. It’s no wonder that Jacek has no interest in following in Tymek’s footsteps.
The film Bread and Salt belongs to a well-known genre that portrays the classical piano as a means of expressing suppressed emotional pain and even violence. It follows in the footsteps of other movies such as Five Easy Pieces, Fingers (which was later remade as The Beat That My Heart Skipped), and The Piano Teacher. These films all depict a disconnect between the skilled working-class piano student and those from his same background, highlighting the aspirational nature of striving to escape one’s past. This can often lead to a cold and emotionally distant lifestyle. Kocur’s directorial debut is thought-provoking.