He’s Back: Patryk Vega’s Invisible War (Niewidzialna Wojna)

Poland’s most prolific and eccentric action film director goes all autobiographical in his new film. Is the world ready?

When writing about the principles of tragedy, Aristotle came up with a list of features which he believed defined the genre. You should expect to see things like an ambiguous main character with a flaw, a dramatic reversal of fortune, a moment of self-recognition and a resolution. It strikes me that watching Patryk Vega’s films takes you on a similar journey. No, really. There is the rising disbelief, the confusion, then mirth, begrudging support and finally, a kind of enjoyment. Catharsis is debatable, but you certainly feel something at the end. The Invisible War (2022) entails the by-now anticipated mishmash of willful and accidental non-sequiturs, ideas which at best you could suggest have been lost in translation, unabated ego, and lashings of general incredulity. This film goes the extra mile by being a Patryk Vega film about the rise and rise of Patryk Vega: yes, ladies and gentlemen, Vega has gone meta.

With an actor playing the director – and, by the way, the man himself looks exactly like you’d hope he does – we start way, way back in Vega’s unhappy childhood with an absentee father and a mother who thinks it’s fine to take a small child on a mountain hike fit for Amundsen. As they both barely crawl to safety across a minuscule ridge thousands of feet up, it seems that mum’s deep belief in her son is the only thing which gets them through this eye-popping metaphor. It’s all spun as a motivational moment: she believes in him. Also, it would have been a very short film if he’d fallen, if more believable overall.

One of these men is Patryk Vega. Can you guess which?

Back at home (somehow) you can really get to like this woman – flighty, unpredictable and sometimes angry enough to pour Patryk’s dinner down the back of his vest – and you can get to know his grandpa, too, a man who kickstarted young Patryk’s love of film by, it seems, being a one-man version of IMDb years before it was a thing. It’s all there, in his notepad. He also successfully sneaks his grandson into a lot of cinema screenings he is way too young for, which is actually one of the more plausible elements here. Patryk’s childhood is thus presented as a challenging time, one where he had to flog his Lego to make ends meet, one where film called to his enhanced sense of escapism and where the ol’ fantasy of origins really took hold. Adolescence means a brief foray into heavy metal fandom, computers, computer graphics and finally, computer game piracy. All of the proceeds go to his mum. This also goes for other, later excursions into petty crime. He loves his mum.

Finally, he decides to study film: I was genuinely confused here as to how he next seemed to be played by an actor in his thirties, but still in a class with other adolescents. A self-deprecating moment, suggesting a lack of normal progression? That seems doubtful somehow. But Vega eventually hones his skills as a very, very rich filmmaker by studying sociology, working as a journalist, going undercover and finally – after a period of sudden obesity – getting his big break. It isn’t always clear where we are meant to laugh at all of this, and as such it’s not clear if the laughter is mutual. One of the issues with succumbing to giggling is the superimposition of ego throughout; it’s always bloody hard to laugh when someone so clearly thinks they’re great. Mirth jostles uncomfortably against all of the general bluster and self-aggrandisement; if you do laugh, it’s at them, rather than with them.

But there are other moments here which are, as usual, just really tough to decipher, and that can prompt disbelieving laughter. What are we to make of the scene where all of the journalism students head off to Auschwitz, to garner creative inspiration? Vega requests a room with a view of Hess’s gallows: Jesus Christ almighty. What of the ways alcoholism – a running theme in the film – is treated as a bit badass, but then as a completely easy thing to conquer, with God’s help of course (as God pops up regularly to offer Vega moral support). It’s that rather childlike sense of wonder again, born perhaps of having a mysterious amount of money and creative freedom to do whatever you like, without ever being told something won’t work. Again, there seems to be a decent budget here, though there are fewer explosions and trips abroad than in some of his other films. Nonetheless, a lot of filmmakers would kill for this. The film was founded, by the way, by something called Vega Investments. It’s impossible not to admire an element of his derring-do.

Splicing a version of Vega’s personal life off-camera with footage of an actor playing Vega appearing on set to oversee other, genuine Vega films (phew), The Invisible War is unusual in some respects, but most definitely a characteristic Vega film – even if it’s less torrid than usual. We’re not wall-to-wall with strippers and Satanism this time around. And, at nearly two and a half hours long, it almost certainly overstays its welcome. None of this will stop him from continuing to do exactly what he wants, over and over again: this accidental neo-exploitation filmmaker has made five films, four TV series and written three screenplays in the last five years alone. I await his next film, then. I don’t suppose I’ll have long to hang around.


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