3 posts categorized "Polish Cinema"

March 19, 2018

POSSESSION — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Possession1One of the most diabolically indecipherable films ever made, Andrzej Żuławski's disturbing psychological thriller juxtaposes Cold War era West Berlin against an exploding relationship between a warring married couple played by Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill.

Exceptionally convincing performances rise to the ferociously jealous nature of Żuławski's fever-pitched script, co-written with Frederic Tuten.

Supporting turns from Margit Carstensen and Heinz Bennet keep the dramatic heat high.

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If ever there was an incompatible couple, Mark and Anna are it. It doesn’t help matters that they have an adolescent son named Bob who Mark unwisely turns over custody to his mentally unstable wife. Mark works as a spy for shady corporate bosses. He carries briefcases filled with cash and vials of non-disclosed liquids. This is no stay-at-home dad.

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Żuławski plays with emotional, physical, mental, social, and political spaces amid West Berlin’s guarded walls. Ominous danger and grotesque discoveries lurk everywhere. The city’s simultaneously modern and ancient architecture creates a menacing sense of queasy unrest. The city’s subway allows for a shockingly violent episode of bodily expression that contributed to Isabelle Adjani’s Best Actress win at Cannes in 1981. The deeply troubling scene is one of the most frightening episodes ever captured on film.  

Possession2

The duality of female nature gets thrown into forced perspective when Mark meets Anna’s [kind and sane] doppelgänger in the form of his son’s school teacher Helen (also played by Isabelle Adjani).

The division between the couple is as pronounced as the gigantic wall that divides the city. “Possession” skewers capitalism’s eternal methods of skullduggery along with the animal nature of human sexuality that, in this film, finds its level when Mark catches his wife having sex with a giant octopus.

Possession

The Polish filmmaker has famously called his movie “autobiographical,” which adds to the confusion of his only English language movie. “Possession” holds the watermark for the most bizarre cinematic experience you will ever have. No other film begins to approach the madness of romantic obsession and political oppression that this film does.

Colesmithey.comRated R. 124 mins. Five Stars
In episode four, Mike Lacy and I drink Flower Power IPA (Ithaca Brewing Co.) and discuss Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 psychological thriller POSSESSION. Bon appetite. 



POSSESSION

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COLE SMITHEY

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May 13, 2014

ASHES AND DIAMONDS — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

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ColeSmithey.comThe final installment in Andrzej Wajda’s war trilogy — following “A Generation” (1954) and “Kanal” (1956) — is a coolly romantic wartime movie about Maciek, a young Polish resistance fighter whose demise coincides with Germany’s surrender. Maciek’s priorities shift beneath his feet on the night he is entrusted to assassinate Commissar Szczuka, an incumbent communist leader in a small Polish town.

Maciek fails earlier in the day to complete the mission. Maciek and his leftist comrades are even less tolerant of the region’s Communist factions than they are of the Nazis. To say that Wajda walks a delicate, politically charged tightrope is an understatement.

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Written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, Wajda opens the film with a medium shot of the crucifix steeple of a meager church. Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his commander Andrej (Adam Pawlikowski) lie on the chapel’s lawn in wait to kill the Secretary of the District Workers’ Party when his car approaches. Birds chirp. Maciek dozes. A little girl holding a bunch of freshly picked flowers approaches the men, requesting that they open the chapel door. Andrej attempts to oblige the innocent girl’s request. This is hardly the setting for an ambush. The seemingly tranquil scene carries the looming dramatic weight of a signature Hitchcock sequence.

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When Drenwnowski, a third (double-crossing) accomplice, gives the signal that the Secretary’s car is approaching, Maciek dawdles long enough to comment that he’s waited for “bigger things,” before grabbing a machine gun covered in ants from sitting on the grass. Maciek and Andrej fire on the two men in the approaching car. Bullets from Maciek’s gun catch the victim’s clothes on fire after penetrating his back as he falls on the chapel’s doorstep.

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These kinds of realistic details contribute to the film’s youthful sense of soul-crushing melancholy that Zbigniew Cybulski projects in the role that earned him a title as the “Polish James Dean.” Cybulski’s insouciant portrayal of a “Home Army” soldier with a romantic disposition is made iconic by the Ray Ban sunglasses he rebelliously wears even at night.

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Equal parts incisive character study and trenchant dissection of Poland’s frivolous political structure, “Ashes and Diamonds” sets as its poetic centerpiece a sudden affair that develops between Maciek and Krystyna (Ewa Krzyżewska), a barmaid at the hotel where Commissar Szczuka is staying. To his surprise, Maciek’s clumsy flirtations with Krystyna work. She arrives at his meager room in the same hotel, willing to share stories of their troubled lives and a night of sensual ecstasy. After making love, the newly minted couple goes on a nocturnal journey through the dangerous town that finds them seeking refuge from the rain in a bombed-out crypt where the men he killed earlier lie under sheets. Krystyna reads from an inscription.

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“So often are you as a blazing torch with flames of burning hemp falling about you flaming, you know not if the flames bring freedom or death, consuming all that you most cherish. Will only ashes remain, and chaos whirling into the void.” 

Maciek lights a cigarette to blot out the damning accuracy of the poet Cyprian Norwid’s words. Fate has already made its choice. Maciek must complete his mission.  

Not Rated. 105 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

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October 28, 2013

KNIFE IN THE WATER — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 


ColeSmithey.comFor his debut feature film — after graduating from Poland’s famed National Film School in Lodz — Roman Polanski set out to break several golden rules of academic filmmaking.

Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that setting a filmic narrative on a boat was akin to artistic suicide. These were the days before “handheld” anything-film-related after all. With the aid of a brilliant minimalist script by Jerzy Skolimowski, Polanski not only flouted cinematic tradition, he efficiently laid the groundwork for many of the films he would make over the next decade.

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Indeed, in “Knife in the Water” (1962) you can see elements and themes that Polanski extrapolated on in psychological thrillers such as “Repulsion” (1965), “Cul-de-sac” (1966), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and “The Tenant” (1976). Polanski’s haunting use of Krzysztof Komeda’s straight-ahead jazz score creates an atmospheric leitmotif — something crucial to many of the filmmaker’s later movies.

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Stunted virility and the male ego come under close inspection in Polanski’s camera-microscope in a story with just three characters. A well-to-do couple — Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) — drive their sports car through the Polish countryside on their way to a weekend sailing trip aboard Andrzej’s yacht. He isn’t happy with her driving. They stop to switch places. Andrzej is considerably older than his female companion. Their age difference becomes a simmering issue after the couple picks up a young blonde roustabout (Zygmunt Malanowicz) hitchhiking in the middle of the road. The car almost hits him. Andrzej tempers his fury at the young man’s dangerous behavior as a way of challenging Krystyna’s callow sense of propriety. Both men are looking for trouble.

Krystyna is a poker-faced object of desire, more confident than either of the men. Once on the sailboat, the trio’s voyage becomes a multi-layered metaphor for ideas and motivations related to notions of one-upmanship, sexual attraction, and ulterior motives.

Kinfe in the Water

Polanski works closely with cinematographer Jerzy Lipman to build tension and suspense in every camera shot and Dutch angle the team use to tell the linear story. The unpredictable hitchhiker has brought along a large switchblade of the most dangerous variety. Its phallic blade ejects straight out from the handle, so that if the user were to hold the knife against a person’s stomach and press the release button, the spring-loaded mechanism would instantly impale the victim.

Knife-in-the-water

Character traits inform the suspense. The hitchhiker doesn’t know how to swim. That doesn’t stop him from climbing to the top of the boat’s high mast, or hanging off the side of the yacht to mime running across the water’s surface. A cuckolding scenario gradually becomes a mutually imagined objective in spite of the obvious hatred between the two men. A storm sends the trio into the hull where they play a game that involves relinquishing items of clothing. Before the voyage is over, each person will achieve his or her consciously, or subconsciously, informed desires. 

“Knife in the Water” was the first Polish movie to receive an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language movie.

5 Stars

Not Rated. 94 mins.

Cozy Cole

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