The ‘Dare’ section of films at this year’s London Film Festival are described as ‘in-your-face, up-front and arresting films that take you out of your comfort zone’. On the surface Exhibits or Stories from the Castle, a documentary set in an old-people’s home, might not seem to fit the bill. What lifts this film into almost a new category of real cinema is a clever blending of sound and image and some truly captivating subject matter. Heart-warming and harrowing, this might not have been the easiest watch of the festival, but it’s worth a go for pure, unadulterated story telling.
The ‘castle’ of the title is the fancy building in Stupava, Slovakia, where a fascinating host of elderly characters live. Director Palo Korec takes us deep inside the castle and draws intimate pictures of the inhabitants – or ‘exhibits’. The first character we meet zooms around on his wheelchair like there’s no tomorrow, and is helpfully accompanied by the sounds of Formula 1 tyre-shrieks; another speaks casually of how he killed a policeman, but because it took him 3 days to die it wasn’t murder. Yeah.
Homicidal geriatrics aside though, this is a striking portrait of what the end of a lot people’s lives will look like (apologies for the morbid thought). One of the last exhibits we meet wisely tells us: “the life passes by so quickly”. If nothing else, this film will convince you to live your life to the full. My one complaint would be that I found my attention wandering at times to exactly how else I might be living my life besides watching this film. Perhaps it’s the aged cast, perhaps it’s because my Slovak’s not really up to scratch. It’s an interesting film but at 70mins I struggled to stay completely interested.
Korec ends the film with the title-card “These were the stories of people who have lost everything and the only thing they have left is their life”. It’s a beautifully sad statement that sums up the emotion of this documentary.