First-time actress Zofia Stafiej excels as a headstrong teenager who embarks on a quest to Ireland to arrange the return of her dead father to Poland. Ola’s dad has been killed while working as immigrant labour on a construction site, and the 17-year-old is seen as more capable of sorting out the necessary documentation than her non-English speaking mother (Kinga Preis). For Ola, who barely knew her father besides the regular money he sent home, her chief interest lies in finding out if he left her the cash he’d promised her for a car if she had passed her test.
Piotr Domalewski’s comedy drama revolves around a familiar fish-out-of-water scenario, but marries this to a biting depiction of the plight of migrant workers. Ola encounters the men who worked alongside her Dad – all of whom knew him better than she – as she flounders attempting to navigate the Gordian knot of Bureaucracy. The result falls rather squarely in thematic turns between Ken Loach‘s I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You. For the most part Domalewski resists the sheer despair in which Loach can indulge, but while the brilliant Stafiej can be amusingly pugnacious as she barrels her slightly petulant way through Dublin’s migrant labyrinth, the comedy is as bitter as aloes.
Domalewski’s depiction of Ireland is as far removed from cinematic stereotype as it’s possible to be. No Wild Mountain Thyme shenanigans here. Filmed through an appropriately jaundiced lens, Dublin as Ola discovers it is a maze of tacky hostels, overpriced bars, smoky dorm rooms, and officious government department interiors. As she endures each setback with infinite resolve, Stafiej subtly chisels away some of Ola’s tougher edges. The result is an engrossing character study that immerses the viewer in an environment of which they are aware, but one in which our understanding increases at the same rate as our protagonist. At times it is far from easy viewing, as Ola’s repetitive rut of hopeful tidbit of information and crushing disappointment continues. In its rhythms it is similar to the Dardenne brothers’ (another stylistic touchstone for Domalewski) Two Days, One Night.
Unfortunately, despite the formidable efforts of Zofia Stafiej, Ola is so hardened against the world that only a little of her demeanour has been eroded by the end of the film, and she remains something of an unknown quantity besides as a pragmatic, resourceful, and rather stroppy detective. And while I Never Cry is for the most part a sober and clear-eyed account of tough people working and living in tough conditions, supporting families from whom they’ve grown estranged, as the title suggests it can’t resist an ultimate lip-wobbler of emotional catharsis. It’s fairly-well earned, and played simply and quietly, but one wishes Domalewski could have resisted.
However, I Never Cry remains as spiky and uncompromising as its heroine. Piotr Domalewski has a keen eye for tricky subject matter presented in a way that finds a balance between impactful drama and harrowing sociology lecture. And in its star it has an instinctive performer who finds empathy and truth in a character that could have been simply a blunt instrument.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 11 Oct 2021