Review: ‘Woman on the Roof,’ starring Dorota Pomykała

June 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dorota Pomykała (pictured at far right) in “Woman on the Roof” (Photo by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt)

“Woman on the Roof”

Directed by Anna Jadowska

Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2021, in an unnamed city in Poland, dramatic film “Woman on the Roof” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 60-year-old woman’s financial problems and depression lead her to commit a desperate crime that sends her life on a further downward spiral. 

Culture Audience: “Woman on the Roof” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching raw and realistic dramas that depict how mental health can affect how people cope with problems.

Dorota Pomykała and Bogdan Koca in “Woman on the Roof” (Photo by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt)

“Woman on the Roof” shows in stark and unflinching ways what can happen when people with mental health issues can suffer even more from neglect and denial. Dorota Pomykała gives a haunting portrayal of someone trapped in an emotional quicksand of desperation. This drama is an effective portrait of how depression can be stifling and often misunderstood. “Woman on the Roof” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where Pomykała won the prize for Best Performance in an International Narrative Feature.

Written and directed by Anna Jadowska, “Woman on the Roof” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Poland) shows right from the movie’s opening scene that 60-year-old Miosława “Mira” Napieralska (played by Pomykała) is very troubled. After doing some laundry, Mira is seen going up to the roof of her apartment building. She then goes to the edge of the roof, as the camera shows a close-up of her feet. It looks like she’s about to jump.

The movie then abruptly cuts away and begins showing what led up to this apparently suicidal moment. Most of “Woman on the Roof” consists of these flashback scenes to explain why Mira has felt so alone and desperate, she apparently wants to kill herself. The information is revealed in bits and pieces, like parts of a puzzle. Mira is very introverted and quiet, so many scenes in this movie have no dialogue when Mira is by herself. Whatever thoughts she’s having in these moments of solitude and isolation might only be indicated by her facial expressions or body language.

Mira’s living situation is an example of how someone can be with other people but still feel lonely. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her husband Julek Napieralska (played by Bogdan Koca), who calls her Mirka. Their adult son Mariusz Napieralska (played by Adam Bobik) lives with them. It’s never stated or shown what Mariusz does for a living or how long he’s been living with his parents. Mariusz is very mild-mannered and stays out of his parents’ marital problems.

Mira and Julek have a marriage where the passion has left the relationship long ago. It’s later mentioned that it was Mira’s idea for her and Julek to start sleeping in separate bedrooms for an untold number of years. Julek and Mira live like roommates who aren’t particularly interested in each other any more. Mira works as a midwife in a hospital maternity ward, but she doesn’t seem to have any passion for her work either. Mira is not close to any of her co-workers, and she has no friends.

On the afternoon of July 26, 2021, after buying some fish food at an aquarium store, Mira commits a crime that will take her down a very dark road of humiliation and shame. She walks into a small bank and nervously tells the bank teller Elwira Piatek (played by Dominika Biernat), who’s the only employee on duty, to give money to Mira because she’s robbing the bank. At first, Elwira thinks it’s a joke.

But when Mira pulls a kitchen knife out of her purse, Elwira says that she’s going to call the police. Elwira is so much in shock that this seemingly harmless-looking older woman is robbing the bank, she gives Mira multiple chances to change her mind before Elwira calls the police. Mira seems to be in a panic though and won’t put the knife away, so Elwira calls the police to report an armed robbery in progress.

When it starts to sink in to Mira that the police will be there at any moment, Mira quickly flees the scene of the crime and eventually gets on a crowded bus to hide. When she arrives at home, Mira acts as if nothing happened. She keeps this secret to herself. But it won’t be a secret for long, because a day or two later, two investigating cops show up unannounced at her apartment door when Mira, Julek and Mariusz are at home. About two-thirds of the movie is about the aftermath of this police visit.

Press materials for “Woman on the Roof” mention that the movie is partially inspired by a real-life story of an elderly woman who committed a bank robbery. The real-life woman’s name, where she committed the crime and when the bank robbery happened are not mentioned in the press materials. As time goes on in “Woman on the Roof,” it’s obvious that the crime that Mira committed is a sympton of her larger problem of being depressed.

However, people around Mira misunderstand that depression is Mira’s core issue, and they only want to focus on the crime that she committed as Mira’s biggest problem. It turns out that Mira is in debt for 100,000 złotsys, which is about $22,597 in early 2020s U.S. dollars. But even if Mira had the money to pay back the debt, it wouldn’t erase her struggles with depression.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Woman on the Roof” is that even though it’s a film about a very dark subject, the movie’s cinematography (by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt) is awash in bright light, even indoors. At times, the lighting gives the appearance that’s similar to film photography that looks close to being overexposed. In addition, most of the people in this movie wear very light-colored clothing. For example, Mira wears a lot of white and light blue outfits.

Viewers can interpret these filmmaker creative choices in many ways. However, it seems to be writer/director Jadowska’s way of showing how even during this bright and sunny summer and even when Mira wears light-colored clothes, Mira’s problems are like a dark cloud that she can’t escape when her life starts to fall apart. She’s so down and depressed, viewers will feel the weight of it, even on a sunlit and clear day that might lighten someone else’s mood, but won’t lift Mira out of her emotional rut.

In a compelling way, “Woman on the Roof” also points out then even when someone gets therapy for a mental illness, it might not be enough if it’s the wrong type of therapy, or if the therapy ends too soon. “Woman on the Roof” is definitely not the movie to watch if you’re looking for upbeat entertainment with a guaranteed happy ending. But if you want to see a well-acted movie that shows a richly layered interior life of a woman who’s teetering on the edge of suicidal thoughts, then “Woman on the Roof” might provide better understanding and some compassion for people who are going through similar struggles.

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