Grzegorz Płonka (Michal Sikorski) plays the piano in his father’s study.
Coming-of-age biopic Sonata (2021) closes out the Polish Film Festival at the Union South Marquee, which begins on Sunday, November 13, with Illusion (2022), and then continues the following Sunday, November 20, with a triple feature of Fucking Bornholm (2022), Black Sheep (2022) and Sonata.
Bartosz Blaschke’s film is based on the true story of Grzegorz Płonka (Michal Sikorski), who is misdiagnosed with autism as a child in the mid-1990s, only to discover at age 14 that he actually suffers from hearing loss that prevented him from processing the upper registers necessary to understand speech. When Grzegorz finally gets fitted with a hearing aid thanks to the insistence of a home caregiver, he’s set upon a difficult road toward a meaningful life: learning to speak and read in his teens, and obsessively devoting himself to becoming a concert pianist, with his ultimate goal to perform Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (which lends the film its name).
The film uses similar audio effects to Sound Of Metal (2020) in the scene where Grzegorz finally hears clearly for the first time, allowing the audience to perceive as he does. Previously, his relationship with music consisted of pounding on a piano to feel the vibrations. Sonata also shares Sound Of Metal‘s more nuanced take on a disability narrative rather than standing as a simple triumph-over-adversity tale: much emphasis is put on Grzegorz’s early life being left to languish due to sheer institutional indifference despite the efforts of his exasperated parents (Małgorzata Foremniak and Lukasz Simlat) to get someone to respond on a human level instead of just enforcing the rules and their own expectations.
When Grzegorz finally speaks, he often has a frustratingly black-and-white interpretation of social interactions, and a megalomaniac focus on his life goal of becoming a pianist. At every turn, he’s met by people who qualify his talent as “playing well for a deaf person.” Grzegorz doesn’t so much want to prove them all wrong as he gets stuck on not fully grasping why someone would want to keep him from fully expressing himself. Understandably, he lashes out when clashing once again with the harshness of those more concerned with checking boxes than letting him release his pent-up emotions.
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