Film Reviews

Hot Docs Review: ‘Lessons of Love’

A film about taking your life back and giving love another chance

Hot Docs


Lessons of Love
(Poland, 74 min.)
Dir. Malgorzata Goliszewska, Kasia Mateja
Program: The Changing Face of Europe

For 45 years, Jola did exactly what was expected of her. She married and raised six children “for better or for worse.” In Lessons of Love, directors Malgorzata Goliszewska and Kasia Mateja, present a candid, close-up portrait of Jola as she leaves the past behind and begins to celebrate life and herself.

Unapologetically raw, the film opens with a short scene in Italy where we are confronted with Jola putting on her makeup while the voice of a man, who seems to be her husband, insults her in the background. In Poland, six months later, Jola is on the beach with two female friends, carefree and singing. Jola recalls her teenage years, when she got pregnant and married the wrong boy, Bodgan.

Bogdan drank heavily and beat Jola, but when he was sober “he was the cutest thing.” When her friends ask her why she stayed all those years, Jola replies “I always listened to my grandmother and the priest, ‘for better and for worse.’”

Lessons of Love, however, is not a film about abuse. It is about a woman taking her life back, a woman giving joy and love another chance—oh, and all at the age of 69. Through simply following Jola in her daily life, documenting events as they unfold and allowing for the story to reveal itself as it happens, the film ceases to be about the details, but rather the emotional, the momentary and the experiential. It doesn’t matter what exactly happened in her marriage, how many kids she had, or what might happen, what matters is Jola’s journey, her day-to-day, and her commitment to enjoying life before it’s too late. Jola bathes her dog, works in the garden, takes singing classes and joins a dancing class where she meets Wojtek, her dance partner. The couple flirtatiously fall in love on-screen: on park benches, in mattress stores and over meals.

Around two thirds into the film, Jola goes back in Italy and yet again, her husband Bogdan insults her continuously and blatantly. What is refreshing is that this short scene is the first we see of Bogdan’s face and only the second time we hear him. He is unimportant and insignificant; the film is about Jola, not him nor the abuse.

Back in Poland again, Wojtek comes to welcome Jola after her short trip to Italy. The stark contrast between the two men and the way they treat Jola is crystal clear. Jola and Wojtek go dancing, spend days together, and the film simply ends. During the credit sequence, they move in together.

It is precisely this non-attachment to clean endings, complete truths and the attempt to tell the audience everything ,that makes this film such a success. Of course, with her platinum blonde hair, impeccable makeup and fashionable style, Jola is a wonder to watch, as she rediscovers, plays and lives her life in little moments, both the good and the bad.

Lessons of Love screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Tara Hakim is a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker who strives to offer unique ways of interacting with, interpreting, and responding to the world around her. Tara completed her BA (Hons.) in Media & Cultural Studies at Kingston University and is a recent MFA graduate in Documentary Media at Ryerson University.

View all articles by Tara Hakim »