It’s New Year’s Eve, 1999. As the world counts down to the new millennium, twenty-something Sebastian (played by Bartosz Bielenia, the male lead of Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi), gets hold of a gun, hijacks a Polish TV studio, and takes two hostages. His only demand: to broadcast a message live on air. What the message would be is unclear, and so is Sebastian’s plan. He comes under increasing pressure from the police who surround the studio and their commander-in-chief, who is both unwilling to cooperate and desperate to go home to celebrate the start of the new year. As the night wears on and their stalemate becomes ever more entrenched, the film shifts from hostage drama to psychological thriller, and Sebastian and his hostages embark on deep, intimate conversations. Slowly, they begin to shed light on the young man’s motives, uncovering Sebastian’s thirst for the spotlight in a society where he feels all but ignored.
Prime Time is the directorial debut of young Polish filmmaker Jakub Piątek, and premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2021 before its global release on Netflix. The inclusion of archive imagery makes it perhaps a little too clear that this film is a critical reflection of Poland at the turn of the century, where glossy cable television only reflected the more privileged side of a society in flux. But as both the story of an anti-hero from the pre-social media age and a human drama bound up by the power of the spectacle, Prime Time is a thrilling, thought-provoking watch.
Watch on Netflix.