Andrzej Wajda's fifth film, after Lotna, marked a shift from his dramas of wartime & post-war struggles against governments and political regimes to a straightforward contemporary story about an unlikely couple who meet, really annoy each other, and ultimately decide whether to take the first steps in a trusting relationship when they realize there's an attractive personality beneath their self-fashioned posturing of indifference.
It's a date movie: bereft of any political ideology and symbolism, Wajda and screenwriters Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jerzy Skolimowski focus on a womanizing musician/doctor from the national wrestling team, whose passion for sleek, modern jazz takes him and his buddies to various clubs. Bazyli (played by Tadeusz Lomnicki, from Wajda's A Generation) approaches icy-cool Pelagia to show drinking pal Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski, from Ashes and Diamonds) how to make a girl interested in you.
Bazyli follows Pelagia to the train station, and he's too full of machismo to realize he's being worn down by Pelagia's wavering moments of fleeting interest; eventually, she rewards his persistence by accompanying him to his bachelor pad, where they spend the night not in bed, but dancing around issues in a marathon game of Q&A quid pro quo that sometimes becomes risqué, and plays with our hope that the two might get a little closer - for some sexual sparks, or more amusing bouts of attitude.
They're affectionate, curious, and eventually develop an affinity for each other, while super-cool jazz music plays in the background. The morning after yields some heavy thinking, with Bazyli contemplating among his buddies whether his newfound thrill may be worth pursuing for something more permanent, instead of weekly routines of casting off beautiful women from one-night stands. He seeks advice from his wizened and closest friends - fellow musician Edmund, and Komeda (played in an unbilled cameo by the film's actual composer, the late, great Krzysztof Komeda) - and then goes on a city-wide search before he finds his answer.
European films of the era are known for various levels of emotional and physical frankness; it's a valued and attractive quality that often puts to shame the overheated and conventional dramas put out by Hollywood studios, mostly targeted for the youth market. (The exceptions, certainly among the jazz-scored social dramas, were made by independents such as Sidney Lumet, as in The Pawnbroker; Arthur Penn, with his nutty Mickey One; and John Cassavetes, in his gritty Shadows, Faces, and the slick studio flick, Too Late Blues.)
Wajda and his fellow filmmakers stay far away from conventional melodrama, and enhance the play-like script with a rich background that depicts Poland 's young adult population as a cosmopolitan culture moving beyond the scars from WW II; no one even discusses the war, although the stark locations and spartan sets allude to the country's past trauma.
Seeking their own place in the world, the country's adults enjoy their own native style, augmented by arresting graphic art (as evidences in the film's main titles, which morph into a street-side exhibit), and a sophisticated jazz scene that was pioneered by brilliant composer and musicians like Komeda.
The characters are completely ordinary, flawed, and hopeful, and the realist tone was later exported to the world when filmmakers like Roman Polanski (who has a small role in the film) began making their own films throughout Europe.
Polart's transfer doesn't really do justice to Krzysztof Winiewicz stark cinematography; this is basically a PAL to NTSC transfer, made from a well-worn but watchable print, but with some serious noise reduction applied to the print's heavy grain and dirt. The transfer speed is smooth and overall quite balanced for 30 fps, but the weak NTSC conversion causes strobing whenever the camera pans, or large objects (like a bus) move across the screen.
The mono mix has been slightly enhanced and cleaned up, and offers a friendly bounce to the innovative score, with a vocal tracks by singer Slawa Przybylska. Komeda's cues are fairly sparse, but they offer inspired themes emphasizing soothing vibes and trumpet (recalling John Lewis' Modern Jazz Quartet), or some percussive and sax-heavy source cues (bubbling with an energy typical of Art Blakey & his Jazz Messengers).
A short text bio & filmography are included, plus two poster snapshots from the original art campaign - the latter once again evidencing the superior poster design used to publicize Polish films during the 50s and 60s.
Not a great transfer, but an intriguing & superior little social drama worth repeated viewings.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan