Writer/director Lionel Baier (Garçon stupide) stars as himself...or does he? The Lionel in the movie is a writer who specializes in autofiction, the "exact opposite of autobiography...you use events in your life to write fiction." Sister Lucie (Natacha Koutchoumov, a Toni Collette-like talent) begs to differ, noting that his novel is about an awkwrad hypochondiac who suffers from anorexia--which comes pretty close to describing Lionel.
The svelte Swissman lives in Lausanne with boyfriend Serge (Stéphane Rentznik). But when Lionel discovers that he has Polish roots, his life is given new purpose. He develops a sudden passion for all things Polish--to the detriment of every other part of his life. He studies Polish history and literature, cheers on the Polish football team and gets frustrated with Serge, who can't see Lionel's suddenly Slavic features.
Soon, a chance encounter with an illegal immigrant--Polish beauty Ewa (Alicja Bachleda-Curus)--prompts tunnel-visioned Lionel to make a rash decision: to marry her so she can stay in the country. He convinces Serge to let her temporarily move in with them, when the boyfriend discovers Lionel's "fiction" writing and reads it back to the author: "'Lionel is caught between the symbolic presence of his feminity--like a promisig future--and the stained, melancholy fedility which was conquered long ago. A memory versus a promise, in a way,'" recites a frustrated Serge. "I'm the memory?"
Lionel says he wants more in life: "I want to conquer. I want gold." That's when Lucie--who also knows how to wallow in unhappiness and also mistreats someone who loves her, boyfreind Liberto (Bernabé Rico)--cries foul, demanding that her gay brother verbally profess his love for Ewa. When he can't, she impulsively "kidnaps" him for a road trip to Poland, forcing Lionel to confront his obsession head on ("I think he's always preferred fiction to reality. Real life scares him."). Lucie is determined to smack some sense into her brother: "This 'return to the homeland' is totally fascist!"
It's a journey filled with mishaps and mayhem as the two try to uncover their roots, a trip filled with comedic conversation (and arguments) about their dreams, life and love: "We convince ourselves that something is the truth. That's all being in love is," Lionel says. "Couples are nothing but people who've convinced themselves that life is less painful as a couple than alone." The less said about their journey, the better. It zigs and it zags, and it's hysterical every step of the way.
The two leads share a lovingly smart ass bond that infuses the film with character, starting with the opening scene on Christmas Eve. Luice holds Lionel captive outside their parents' house in an effort to delay the family torture, as mom and dad--suffering from a bout of Third World guilt--have invited a stranger into their home. "Every year, we invite the world's misery to dinner," she says, soon joking about escaping with Lionel, "running through the night in stealth."
Their connection feels so natural and real, and the two have a relatable chemsitry that gives the film heart. Stealth has a lot in common with The Savages, sharing that film's sometimes uncomfortable comedic touch, one that had me constantly laughing. The script is lofty yet laid back, a charmingly quirky story filled with that quintessential European flair for the random.
Little visual touches also go a long way, like the appropriate name of a painting in an art gallery, a well-placed basset hound and a billboard message (translation: "Here comes a new day!") that comes at the worst possible time. You have to take a few leaps of faith with the plot--incuding the impromptu abduction--but it's easy to overlook given the film's unabashedly amusing charm.
Using the music of Ravel and references to American pop culture, Baier creates a sense of wonder that echoes movies from Hollywood's Golden Age. Lionel's thirst for knowledge and discovery is linked to the Gold Rush and the Wild West, and some of his musings are brought to life with fantasy backdrops that suit the movie's tone perfectly. Ultimately, this is a story about family, how we define our identity, creating your own story--and writing your own ending. It's one of those journeys I didn't want to see end, led by perfect performances and a sharp script that is universally relatable.