Netflixable? A Polish mother clings to an “Illusion” that she may find her missing daughter

The Polish drama “Illusion” (“Illuzja”), like the missing person search it is about, gives up its secrets sparingly and quietly.

We follow a mother (Agata Buzek) who staggers from hope to despair, passing through grief to exasperation along the way, as we peer into her psyche and pass by what we might guess are clues. But this isn’t a conventional mystery. It’s about enduring the unendurable, with agonies and frustrations piling up every step of the way.

Hanna is an elementary school teacher in the port city where her college coed daughter disappeared some months earlier. The police haven’t had any answers, and they like her doctor husband Piotr (Marcin Czarnik) are giving up hope.

But Hanna persists, handing out photo fliers, frequenting her daughter’s favorite campus-side pub, taking calls from cranks who claim missing Karolina “came to me in a dream” (in Polish with English subtitles).

Still, there’s something a little off in the way her husband talks about “police questioning.” And what is Hanna doing with these buttons she seems to stumble across, matching them to the missing girl’s coat?

How much do they know? Might both of them or one of them be hiding something?

Being dragged out to the last place the girl was seen alive with a shackled prisoner who is already an accused murderer, and willing to confess to another, is bad. Talking a walk with a “police” approved clairvoyant is just “cruel.”

“Have you ever helped ANYone?”

He immediately turns to Hanna and wonders if her husband knows what happened to Karolina.

“These things, they happen in families…”

But those interludes seem closer to teases, as this story is really about Hanna’s obsession and the closure that badgering the detective on the case (Malgorzata Hajewska), questioning new tenants in the apartment Karolina grew up in because she finds a photo of her daughter as a child, or trying to talk to the onetime suspect boyfriend (Karol Bernacki) don’t provide.

This Around the World with Netflix drama reminds us that, east or west, police aren’t superhuman or necessarily perceptive or even sympathetic. Just keeping them interested in sticking with a case takes effort and extraordinary measures. And when it’s your child who’s missing, waiting for them to do their job isn’t an option.

Director and co-writer Marta Minorowicz takes care to do nothing to disturb the somber, resigned tone Buzek maintains in her performance. There’s virtually no music in this, and only occasional snappish moments with cops, Hanna’s young and sometimes callous students and her deflated and increasingly dismayed husband.

As concrete leads fail to turn up, Hanna’s credulity shifts towards the supernatural things she’s discounted. Perhaps only a mother can find her own child, she seems to believe. When all else fails…

“Illusion” isn’t a movie with a lot of highs and lows, just a downbeat tale of grief, hope and acceptance struggling mightily with defiant persistence. Buzek and Minorowicz keep us engaged almost in spite of themselves in a movie that hints it might be more conventional than it truly is, but truly isn’t.

Rating: TV-MA, dark themes

Cast: Agata Buzek, Marcin Czarnik, Malgorzata Hajewska and Karol Bernacki

Credits: Directed by Marta Minorowicz, scripted by Piotr Borkowski and Marta Minorowicz. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.