Many people fantasise about living a life more in tune with nature, but imagining what that might look is more difficult. Daniusa and Basia live such an existence in rural Poland. Bucolic (Bukolika) is a slice-of-life documentary following their day-to-day tasks: caring for their goats and dogs, watching the rhythms of plants, writing poetry, receiving the occasional travelling priest, and communicating with the dead. While seemingly content, the occasional phone call or visitor is a keen source of pleasure. Life is hard, but it is satisfying, and perhaps painfully lonely.

Director Karol Pałka never asks his subjects to explain, or even to reflect on, their daily routines. His camera observes only to pick up words spoken to the dogs, or Daniusa’s instructions on bicycle maintenance barked at a dreaming Basia. However, he uses a driving, at times frantic score instead of diegetic sound, emphasising the difficulties this life brings despite the slow pace of the action. At times, the documentary’s title seems ironic. However, Pałka refuses to pass judgement on this slower, remote life; it is neither aspirational nor outdated, merely an unexplored pathway.

Reflection comes more subtly in Bucolic. Early morning and late evening shots of the farm bring out the natural beauty Daniusa and Basia are safeguarding. As Daniusa makes connections both living and dead against such stillness, time becomes malleable. Little occurs over the course of the film – there are no life events captured or milestones met – but the painstaking sameness chosen by the mother and daughter becomes remarkable.

Few documentaries master the fly on the wall feeling as well as Bucolic does. Pałka’s unobtrusive gaze illuminates the small family’s daily existence without asking them to elaborate on their rhythms and rituals. The result is a gentle look at two lives left behind by modernity. 



DIRECTOR: Karol Pałka

WRITER: Karol Pałka

SYNOPSIS: Danusia and her daughter Basia live far away from the modern world, in tune with the rhythm and laws of nature, among animals and the spirits of the dead.