23 February 2002 | Adam Mirowski
A little gem
This first Polish color feature has more to offer than just a technical novelty. If you look past the socrealist background, which today is more an interesting testimony on a forgotten past than an annoyance, it is a wonderful romantic musical comedy, in the mood of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. This is no surprise, given that Ludwik Starski, the screenwriter and lyricist, (and father of Oscar-winning art director Allan Starski), already did a string of successful comedies before the war.
The story is pretty complex, but revolves around the main seduction and love plot involving Tadeusz Szmidt and Lidia Korsakowna. Tadeusz is a bricklayer in ruined post-war Warsaw (the feature is entirely shot on location), which is being actively rebuilt, and Lidia, a country girl with a singing talent, visits the capital with a folk music and dance ensemble. They meet in a qui-pro-quo scene, later dance, but need to separate before even knowing their names. A few months and peripeties later, after Lidia moves to the town and learns a construction job herself, they manage to find each other again. However, they still need to learn how to live together before envisaging a marriage...
The choice of Mariensztadt, a 18th century quarter of the city near the old town, as the location where important action takes place, binds several aspects of the film, notably the romance and the reconstruction effort, as the district has been destroyed in WW2. A third, more political aspect is the re-acquisition of a former bourgeois area by the working class.
The comedy part complements the love interest very nicely. There is good psychological observation, centered around war-of-sexes themes, as the war hecatomb gave women a durable opportunity to take jobs previously occupied by men only, which was hard to swallow to some (I guess that socialism was hard too, and to more people, but *this* could not be said in a movie). There are good sitcom-style moments, like when Lidia realizes the nice woman who invited her to her home is the wife of the "bad" foreman who just refused to hire her. There is an inventive usage of the environment (eg. when Tadeusz shouts something from the roof of the building where he works to his friends near the ice cream salesman at the bottom and Lidia, in between, thinks he wants *her* ice cream; this is how they first meet) and of the various props (when desperately seeking Tadeusz after returning to the city, Lidia accidentally notices his large street portrait looking into a mirror). It goes without saying that the dialogs are witty and the acting is on a par.
The production has lovely music and musical numbers, notably the main dance sequence, "Jak przygoda to tylko w Warszawie", which could be translated as "I want my romance to happen in Warsaw only", and the "Cyraneczka" number ("Little wild duck", this of course parallels a young girl), sung by Lidia's ensemble (which is actually "Mazowsze", the Polish top folk music and dance revival ensemble, created and managed by T. Sygietynski, the composer of movie songs). Note that Lidia's singing is performed by a teenage Irena Santor, then in Mazowsze, but who since became a very big star in the Polish pop music firmament. Lidia herself was part of Mazowsze before switching to acting studies.
A definite must see, together with the earlier "Skarb" (1949).