My Nikifor is a spare yet affecting cinematic portrait of the Polish "outsider" artist Nikifor Krynicki, who's played in a remarkable piece of trans-gender acting by the late female thespian Krystyna Feldman. Writer/director Krzysztof Krauze sensibly concentrates on just the last few years of his illiterate subject's impoverished existence in 1960s Communist Poland, focussing on his unlikely friendship with the party-funded painter Marian Wlosinski (Roman Gancarczyk), who becomes his devoted protector.
When Marian first encounters Nikifor in his studio in the spa town of Krynica, he regards the dishevelled elderly visitor as little more than a nuisance. "You can't paint", is the latter's brusque dismissal of Marian's own artistic efforts, but the younger man soon discerns that Nikifor himself has an undeniable talent for painting miniatures. And Marian is prepared to jeopardise his own health and that of his wife and children - Nikifor has contagious turbeculosis - by acting as his benefactor.
"NIKIFOR'S ORIGINS REMAIN SHROUDED IN MYSTERY"
Shifting between darkened interiors and snow-covered landscapes, this artfully composed film is a low-key affair, which conveys the mostly uneventful daily existence of its protagonist. Nikifor's origins remain shrouded in mystery: he has no identifying documentation and rumours swirl around about his parents. Significantly, however, this inarticulate and itinerant figure has an innate religious faith, and the story acquires biblical echoes, with scenes such as Marian tenderly washing Nikifor's feet. Above all Feldman doesn't seek to ingratiate us with her central performance, which conveys her character's suffering, stubbornness, and child-like naivety.
My Nikifor is out in the UK on 14thSeptember 2007.