Centaur is an intriguing short film by Aleksandra Niemczyk, a mentee of Hungarian director Béla Tarr and student of his film.factory academy. Shot in Sarajevo and taking inspiration from the life of Niemczyk’s grandfather, it tells the story of Vlado (Vladimir Kajevic), a man paralysed from the waist down by polio, and Alma (Snezana Alic), his wife and caregiver. In a series of painterly tableaux, Niemczyk explores their changing relationship and the strain placed on it by Vlado’s illness.
Most of the film is set in the couple’s cramped apartment. Niemczyk uses creative framings to emphasise their isolation, both from the rest of the world and from each other. After one argument, during which Vlado rejects Alma’s attempts to help him wash, they sit brooding in different rooms of their home. The frame is split in two by the wall that separates the couple, which acts as a powerful symbol of the emotional barriers they have erected to hide their vulnerabilities. It is just one of many cleverly composed shots in Centaur.
The title of the film primarily refers to the enigmatic figure, a man with the head of a horse, who stalks their dreams. Niemczyk opens the film with one such vision, a striking introduction that instantly places Centaur in the realm of the metaphysical. The soundtrack is equally concerned with objects beyond our world, much of it taken from Symphony of the Planets III, a collection of recordings taken by NASA’s Voyager probes as they travelled billions of miles across the solar system. The soundscape hums in the background, as if the fabric between the physical and metaphysical world is vibrating. It eventually gives way to a daring, poetically charged climax that has the air of a Greek myth.
The centaur can be taken as Vlado too. He relies on chairs to move around, by placing one in front of him, shifting his weight onto it, and then placing a second one in front of him again. He is a twisted version of a man on four legs, and while his method offers him some degree of liberation, it also binds him solidly to his surroundings. A long take of him moving gradually across a balcony, another perfectly framed shot, emphasises the tiny increments in which he moves. We don’t even get to see where he’s going; it is the difficulty of getting there that is important.
Centaur is shot with wonderful clarity, even though most of the film takes place in the dimness of the couple’s apartment. The greys and browns of their furnishings are broken up by striking splashes of colour: a peach curtain, a bottle of cobalt-blue liquid. The final scene shows Aleksandra Niemczyk’s artistic background to the fullest. It is a vibrant pastoral, all cloudy skies, mountains and trees, the perfect setting for an ending which is equally hopeful and full of mystery. Whatever lessons the director learnt under Béla Tarr’s mentorship have paid off, as with Centaur, Niemczyk shows that she is a talent to watch out for.