12 December 1999 | couzijn
A feast for the eye, a pain for the brain
I have just come home from seeing this film in Amsterdam, which was the West-European premiere (12 dec. '99). I did not read anything about this film, or comments that other spectators made. So this is a direct-from-the-heart comment on the 'naked' movie.
I am truly sorry to say - and this will probably hurt many Polish spectators - that I think that as a film, 'Pan Tadeusz' has some important failures. Not being Polish, I do not have an automatic sympathy for Polish films in general, or for films about Polish history or about Polish literary works. I believe that for non-Polish audiences - or even for Polish non-literary-educated audiences - the film is hard to digest - if digestible at all. Besides, even my Polish friends were quite disappointed, and I think I understand why.
The first hour of the film is particularly hard to follow. Lots of names, situations, storylines without any explanation; a language that is archaic if not swollen, and characters that are neither introduced nor stay on the screen long enough to become interesting (with the obvious exception of Gervazy, although the man does not need to scream so much all the time if you ask me).
During the second hour I got some clue about what was going on, particularly when it came to the fighting scenes (no, I am not fond of fighting scenes, but at least I know what they are about) and with the help of my Polish company who gave some explanations. It is never a good sign if you need other people's explanations to understand a film.
The ending of the film got me back to the more chaotic circumstances of the beginning, but it included a rather forced attempt to solve the 'plot' and then again left us with an open ending which did not interest me.
In all, I think that in the transition from the poem 'Pan Tadeusz' to the film 'Pan Tadeusz', Wajda lost the strong points of the 'poem' genre, and failed to include the strong points of the 'film' genre. A 2,5 hour film focuses the spectator more on the storyline than a 20 hour book. The storyline of 'Pan Tadeusz', however, is for non-Polish audiences too thin and too mysterious to comprehend or value.
Fortunately there is one aspect that was enjoyable: the gorgeous cinematography, the great landscapes, the fine camera movements, and the nice colours. Here I could see and recognize what a great cinematographer Wajda is (I never doubted that). I just think that there were some unfortunate premisses at play in the idea of translating the literary work 'Pan Tadeusz' into a movie. At least, it did not work for me.