The title 33 Scenes From Life suggests that Malgoska Szumowska’s film will feature distinct divisions between each narrative segment that it presents. It doesn’t. This is a conventionally told story, without fades to black or clear barriers between one sequence and the next. Then again, the title also suggests that this will be film about life. It’s not really. Rather, it focuses on the process of death, or at least how the death of two Polish artists impacts their daughter, who is technically an adult, but lacks much maturity.
The early scenes in 33 Scenes reveal a warm and casual portrait of family life, but that idyll is soon disrupted by the revelation that the family’s matriarch has terminal cancer. The remainder of the film is submerged in a dour mood. Szumowska wants to demonstrate how the process of death can force family members to put their lives on hold, and she does that without resorting to soapy plot twists or cheap sentiment. While the family remains at arm’s length throughout (I suspect their occasional racist and homophobic remarks were supposed to be endearing, but they had the opposite effect on me), the film manages to stay on point for a while. The last act, however, sees it transforming into a bizarre feminine wish-fulfillment fantasy, in which the protagonist has to choose between two men and the third option of becoming a fully realized person and artist. It’s an odd, self-centered capper to a cancer movie that undoubtedly reduces the life lessons that were imparted along the way.