Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:25 pm 
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Two stories and a memory and a tribute

Famous since the Fifties when he made Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, 83-year-old filmmaker Andrzej Wajda has made two complex films in the past two years; the previous being the 2007 historical film Katyn, about the repressed slaughter of Polish officers by the Russians. Here he has combined four elements. "Tatarak" ("Sweet Rush") is a postwar story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz about a mature woman who becomes involved with a simple, sexy young man, and Wajda augments it by combining it with another story about a women whose doctor husband discovers as summer approaches that she has a terminal illness, but doesn't tell her.

Marta, the woman (who becomes the protagonist of both stories) is played by the great Polish actress Krystina Janda. But at the time the film was to be shot, Janda was grieving over the recent death of her own husband of a sudden, terminal illness. He was Edward Klosinksi, a d.p. responsible for the cinematography of two well-known films, Man of Marble and Man of Iron," both directed by Wajda and starring Janda. Wajda weaves together fiction and real life, interspersing scenes of Marta's life with her doctor husband (Jan Englert) and her encounter with the young man, Bogus (Pawel Szajda), with Krystina Janda's actual recollections of her husband's last days, spoken dramatically in a darkened room looking away from an unmoving camera. There are also brief sequences in which the camera draws back to show a filmmaking crew, so that the line between fiction and meta-fiction blurs.

The layered but rather slow-paced tale is mostly of value for Janda's fine performance. This is a showcase for her art, a tribute to her and her long relationship with the director, also indirectly a tribute to Janda's late husband, as well as to the notable Polish writer Jaraslaw Iwaszkiewicz, whom Wajda has long wanted to celebrate through an adaptation. "Sweet rush" (tatarat) is a tall marsh grass with several scents -- redolent of fresh life, but when pressed deeply, giving off the smell of death -- and it's used for Pentecost as a celebration of the coming of summer. To impress or please Marta, with whom he (rather too quickly, in the film) has developed a lively, warm May-December relationship, Bogus dives into the water and grabs a lot of it when a tragic accident happens. This is the most vivid and troubling moment of the film.

Marta's husband has pointed out to her that death can come at any time, and a reminder of that is the bedroom of the couple's two young sons who died years ago during the war, which is kept locked. Marta has been living in the past, longing for the more blissful prewar period, when Bogus suddenly comes along to make her focus on the present just when, unbeknownst to her, her own days are numbered.

The filmmaking segments don't quite work, and the monologue by Janda, however interesting in itself, isn't integral to the two intertwined short stories by Iwaszkiewicz, which would work quite well on their own. Wajda seems to be trying to do too much with this "portmanteau" film, but Sweet Rush is a fascinating document of a master filmmaker, which not only has interesting camerawork, good acting, and luminous lighting, but a few memorable scenes.

Shown as an official selection of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, 2009.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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