The Constant Factor (1980)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original Title: Constans

, 1980. . Screenplay by Krzysztof Zanussi. Cinematography by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by .

Witold () performs his military service in the mountains scaling dangerous cliffsides, assigned to him because his own father died climbing the Himalayas when Witold was twelve. On his team is a former colleague of his father’s, and this connection later gets the idealistic young man an interview for a high profile job that he lands, working on expositions that travel beyond Poland’s borders and allow him to see the world.

By the time he has come back from his first business trip to India, Witold has begun to suspect that there are corrupt elements involved in the job, his boss is selling materials for personal profit and fudging the books toward the same goal, while he finds his mother in hospital and learns that the only way to improve the poor treatment she is receiving is to bribe the enterprising doctors.

Rather than catch on to the subtle corruptions of this system of back-passage glad-handing, Witold becomes, somewhat to his own discredit, more passionate about fighting for what is right, and director Krzysztof Zanussi’s summation of the dubious rewards of his country’s “golden age” of socialism would be criticized for being such blatant messaging if it weren’t for how humorously the story presents this very sympathetic and tragic hero’s hubris.

Daring to try and hold a corrupt superior responsible for his crimes, Witold encounters a society full of people who have figured their own way through the system and have no intention of helping him dismantle it, even the Warsaw cab drivers can’t be bothered to do something decent for a customer unless the pot is sweetened for them. As Witold clings to his ideals, he descends further on the ladder of success until he eventually finds himself scaling a different kind of rocky formation in the film’s darkly funny conclusion.

Films with this obvious a moral lesson should always be this intelligent and efficient in their plotting, in this case helped further along by Bradecki’s wide-eyed, guileless performance as a guy you want to root for while being unable to wonder at his perpetual naivete.

Cannes Film Festival Award: Jury Prize

Toronto International Film Festival: 1980

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