Invitation to a Suicide
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In the tradition of absurdist black comedies like the classic Harold and Maude, Invitation to a Suicide is about a man selling tickets to his own suicide to save his father's life. Raised in an insular Polish immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn where his only future would be as a poor baker like his father, Kaz Malek attempts to steal from a Russian mobster and run away. Not cut out for a life of crime, he ends up owing $10,000 to the mobster instead, who threatens to kill his father if he doesn't pay. Unable to pay or face his father's death, Kaz comes up with a novel plan: he'll hang himself and sell tickets to the show. He'd rather be a dead hero than a living loser with the guilt of his father's death hanging over his head. Kaz is surprised to find both the mobster and the neighborhood extremely supportive of this idea, not to mention his father. But even if he can sell the tickets will he really go through with it? By the time this dark comedy reaches its surprising conclusion, Kaz learns that sometimes embracing death is the only way to a better life.
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Just why, you're probably wondering, would a young man sell tickets to his own suicide? The short answer is that he's doing it to save his father's life. The long answer is, of course, much more complicated. Let me set the scene for you. This all takes place in a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn. In this insular little world of run-down buildings and poor yet hard-working Polish immigrants, the traditional ways still hold true. Kaz Malek (Pablo Schreiber) is supposed to be a baker because his father is a baker, his grandfather was a baker, etc. Kaz is sort of a shiftless loser who had no desire to be another in a long line of poor bakers. His dream is to escape to California with Eva (Katherine Moennig), the girl he's loved since they were both seven years old. Eva is not interested in Kaz's master plan, but Kaz thinks she will change her mind if he can come up with the money for both of them to leave. That's when he comes up with the bright idea of robbing Ferfichkin (Joe Urla), a Russian mobster who, among other things, makes and sells snuff films to some local cops. This proves to be quite a mistake, and suddenly Kaz must come up with ten thousand dollars for Ferfichkin - or else his old man will be killed.
Personally, if I were in Kaz's shoes, I would be entertaining notions of stealing the money from someone else or trying to kill Ferfichkin, but Kaz comes up with the undeniably novel idea of killing himself in front of a crowd of people willing to pay to watch such a thing. He may be a loser, but he's not going to let his pop die for a mistake he made himself. Ferfichkin eventually takes to the idea once he understands that Kaz is serious, and the kid shows some real ingenuity in lining up "customers" for the big event. His friends are a big help, especially Krysztof, who thinks that his funeral home will benefit from the suicide and funeral of his dead buddy. Does Kaz go through with it? I'll never tell. I will say, however, that the ending proves very interesting indeed.
A funny thing happens on the way to the gallows, though. Kaz suddenly becomes a hero of sorts in his neighborhood. Kids admire him and many adults respect him for sacrificing himself to spare his father's life. The strangest reaction by far, however, is that of his father, who is extremely proud of his son for the first time in his life. The bakery means everything to Kaz's dad, and he thinks that Kaz is sacrificing himself so that the bakery will live on. Kaz's friends treat the whole plan almost as if it's a joke, reveling in the opportunity to help him kill himself. The only person who seems to care if he lives or dies is Eva.
The film isn't entirely dark and depressing, of course. You can't have a dark comedy without some comedy in the mix. I daresay you won't come close to actually giggling at any point, but a number of absurd moments do help lighten the tension. Some say the overall point of the film is to mock death, but you'll have to draw your own conclusions on that score. In any event, I believe Invitation to a Suicide is more than worthy of a cult following. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but those who "get it" will embrace the film with quite a lot of enthusiasm.
This is a bold, original film that pulls no punches and never gives in to conventions or expectations. While there are some issues with the cinematography and the acting isn't of the highest caliber, the dark and subdued atmosphere of the film plays perfectly, largely because it was shot in some very real butcher shops, bakeries, and other businesses in the Polish community of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. That sense of realism converging with the absurdist nature of the story makes for a most compelling contrast. Loren Marsh, who wrote, directed, and produced Invitation to a Suicide is definitely a talent I will watch for in the future.