Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Rok spokojnego slonca
Poland/Italy/West Germany, 1984. Zespol Filmowy “Tor”, TeleCulture, Regina Ziegler Filmproduktion. Screenplay by Krzysztof Zanussi. Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak. Produced by Hartwig Schmidt, Regina Ziegler. Music by Wojciech Kilar. Production Design by Janusz Sosnowski. Costume Design by Magdalena Biedrzycka. Film Editing by Marek Denys.
The war has ended and Poland has been devastated by it, the borders redrawn on a map and forcing the relocation of millions of Polish citizens from their homes. Emilia (Maja Komorowska) and her mother (Hanna Skarzanka) have ended up in a dilapidated hole of a building, their apartment opposite that of Stella (Ewa Dalkowska), a concentration camp survivor who survives by entertaining men of official rank in her apartment. Stella speaks of nothing but finding her way out of the country, saving her money for what she hopes will be an eventual defection; Emilia says little and spends her free time painting, which is what she is doing when she catches the eye of American soldier Norman (Scott Wilson), who has been stationed there to look into the disappearance of a number of American pilots.
Emilia resists Norman at first, as his presence in her apartment brings serious trouble from the corrupt thugs who exploit the vulnerabilities that their fellow Poles are suffering in their country’s degraded condition. Eventually, though, a tenderness develops between the couple that overcomes their lack of a common language, and they make plans to have the women leave with Norman when he is set to return to his post in Berlin. The problem is that traveling with her crippled mother is much harder for Emilia than going alone, and it gives her doubts about doing so, she has no desire to leave the older woman behind but their window of opportunity is growing smaller and the untrustworthy mule who has been hired to take them ups the price of the voyage every time any detail of the plan makes him nervous.
Melancholic but never miserable, this is a gently told love story set within a convincingly harsh atmosphere, you can feel the wood rotting and the mold forming in the apartment as these characters struggle to keep human spirit alive amid all the destruction. Director Krzysztof Zanussi is dead serious about his subject but is never pretentious, there’s a great deal of respect for the uncomplicated feelings between the lovers at the centre of the story, their romance a lone spot of brightness and beauty in a world that has turned so dark and ugly.
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Film
Venice Film Festival Award: Golden Lion