15 May 2000 | Varlaam
When bad films happen to good people
Andrzej Wajda has been a great director at least as far back as "Kanal" in 1957. Tough films, provocative themes.
But why the costume drama? I really wish he'd left this one alone.
It's not unlike 1999's other bloated Polish historical epic, "Ogniem i mieczem" ("With Fire and Sword"). Here again Poles put aside their differences to prove they're the greatest people, or at least the greatest Slavs, on Bóg's green earth. Rah, rah. A crowd of Polish lesser gentry (rabble) armed with swords can defeat trained Russian musketry any day.
And, yes, I am of Polish descent myself, although I'm embarrassed to admit it in this jingoistic context. That's why I was at the special screening in the first place, sponsored by Toronto's Polish newspaper.
"Pan Tadeusz" shares another characteristic with its elephantine contemporary: its ability to confuse non-Polish-speaking members of the audience with its vast number of characters and their poorly defined interrelationships.
Both films too have a sudsy quality. So did "Gone With The Wind", but then character definition makes that historical epic a success. Tadeusz and Zosia are indistinct phantoms as personalities. Certainly no Rhett or Scarlett.
"With Fire and Sword" is more melodramatic than "Pan Tadeusz", but it's also more exciting. This film has a laudable grandeur which Wajda brings to the proceedings, but still I wish he'd picked a subject with a bit more substance.
Wojciech Kilar can be congratulated on his score. And Daniel Olbrychski is always good to see, even with scars all over his head.
It should be noted that Polish-speaking spectators at the theatre appeared to find this film quite enjoyable. They would be chuckling at clever turns of phrase in the dialogue, while the English titles would be saying something indescribably prosaic. Evidently the film loses nearly everything in translation.