Tag Archives: Polish Movies

Mała wielka miłość (Expecting Love): Movie Review

My god that was disappointing. I’m tempted to leave this review at that, along with a stern warning not to part with folding money in exchange for a viewing, but I suppose I should say a little more.

I say ‘disappointing’ because I was really looking forward to this movie and because it completely failed to satisfy any of my expectations. The central premise has an amoral young lawyer from California called Ian (Joshua Leonard) falling in love with a sweet Polish girl called Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska), moving to Poland, and experiencing humorous ‘culture shock’ type situations. There’s a great and very funny movie to be made from that story, but this ain’t it boys and girls.

Ian (Joshua Leonard) and Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska) completely failing to convince anyone that they’re in love.

Expecting Love is some kind of joint US-Polish production. I’m guessing it wasn’t a happy cooperation. Certainly the end result resembles a poorly stitched together Frankenstein’s monster rather more than a seamless marriage. It looks and sounds exactly like a classic American romantic comedy, but the story is shot through with jarringly unpleasant themes and characters. It’s a queasy combination, rather like taking a huge gulp of what you think is apple juice only to discover it’s actually rusty turpentine with 27 spoon-fulls of sugar in it.

Case in point. Joanna, when she discovers she’s pregnant, persuades Ian to come to Poland by pretending she’s under age and thereby laying him open to a charge of statutory rape. Now, I can imagine a darkly humorous movie in which this idea might play, but it just doesn’t fit in the kind of movie where the hero and heroine have their first big kiss when they get caught in the rain and the heroine has to have a slightly camp gay friend (Marcin Bosak). It’s like watching some bizarre collision between Will and Grace and Decalogue 6.

Caught in the rain = romantic kiss.

The most annoying thing about this movie is that, occasionally, it demonstrates how good it could have been. The scenes in which Ian runs into language problems with immigration officials and the police are very nicely played (Maciej Kowalewski and Maciej Wierzbicki are good here, don’t know if they’re already well-known). But even here there’s a weird disconnect between the sweet and glossy tone and the cops beating seventeen kinds of crap out of Ian when then find him sleeping on a bench. Okay, I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police beat the stuffing out of a lost foreigner and then bung him in the klink and I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police are charmingly bumbling fellows who offer a lost foreigner a cell to sleep in for the night, but put them both in the same movie and I get a headache in my sense of humor.

Mikołaj Grabowski doing acting, Agnieszka Grochowska apparently dead.

If I may gripe further. Agnieszka Grochowska is appalling, she delivers her English lines as if she was reading from a phonetic autocue and completely fails to engage the audience. Frankly I didn’t care in the slightest if Ian paid for her operation or left her to turn tricks on Poznańska. Warsaw is portrayed as consisting entirely of a short stretch of Krakowskie Przedmieście, a completely atypical suburban street somewhere in Żoliborz, and the roof garden of the university library. After months of teaching English to Polish students Ian still can’t pronounce ‘tata.’ If he really tried to live in that flat he’d be dead from frostbite by the middle of December. I didn’t like it… you may be getting that message by now.

Final verdict: If you can manage it without paying watch it up until the part with the police then give up, nothing remotely funny or interesting happens after that.

More Polish movie reviews? You have uncanny luck today!

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Sztuczki (Tricks): Movie Review

A genuinely moving tale about a young boy’s attempts to magically influence an adult world he barely understands.

Sztuczki is a hard movie to categorize; an immediate point in its favor. Part gritty expose, part magical realism, part thriller. Sounds awful, but it isn’t. Director Andrzej Jakimowski has won all kinds of awards for this offbeat offering and they’re richly deserved.

We meet six-year-old Stefek (Damian Ul) and his big sister Elka (Ewelina Walendziak) waiting for a train in the one-horse, down at heel Polish town they call home. At first I had a horrible feeling I knew exactly what was coming. Stefek is unremittingly quirky and innocent in a way that real six-year-olds never are and Elka is worldy-wise beyond her years in a way that 18-year-old never are either. Fortunately this doesn’t turn out to matter much. Miraculously an engaging story emerges.

Stefek and Elka, please supply your own melon jokes

It goes like this; at some indeterminate point in the past the too perfect kid and his big sister lost their papa when he ran off with a hussy from the big city. So far so reassuringly commonplace. Stefek is keen to have a dad again, Elka isn’t so sure. Stefek scans the commuters on the platform looking for a man he can’t remember aided by a hopelessly defaced photograph. Elka spots a man she’s fairly sure is her long-lost papa but says nothing.

“Hey buddy, aren’t you my father?”

And right there we get to the meat of the movie. Stefek believes that fate can be manipulated by doing things, Elka believes that all one can really do is sit and see what happens. Scene after scene underlines this basic disagreement. In the park Stefek tries to impress his sister by scrunching up a burger wrapper and tossing it expertly into the trash. Elka places her wrapped-up burger on the floor and watches as it is passed from the owner of a hungry dog, to a street bum, and finally into the trash without her lifting a finger. Stefek tries to influence the fortunes of an apple seller by purchasing some of his wares, Elka has a better way. These are the ‘tricks’ of the title. Stefek is fascinated by his sister’s apparently magical powers and sets out to develop some of his own. Flat caps, cigarettes, lead soldiers, and 200-ton freight trains are involved.

Elka’s boyfriend transporting cabbage

Stefek has a scheme. He co-opts Elka’s slightly gormless boyfriend (Rafal Guzniczak), a flock of pigeons, and a two-inch high model of Napoleon and sets out to change his fate. Elka has an interview with a slightly dodgy Italian businessman who’s interested in something more than her translation skills and she’s damned if she’s going to lift a finger to reunite the family.

And then, right at the end, it turns out that neither point of view matters because papa is a human being with his own will and not just a random force of nature.

Final verdict: The best Polish film I’ve seen since I started reviewing Polish films, which wasn’t terribly long ago.

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Ogród Luizy (Luiza’s Garden): Movie Review

The poster for Luiza’s Garden features a romantically disheveled Marcin Dorociński with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, a high-powered rifle in his hands, and a dangerous look in his eye. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to discover that the movie is much more of a touching romantic comedy than it is an action-packed thriller.

Dude… there’s gonna be trouble

The eponymous Luiza (Patrycja Soliman) is the disturbed daughter of a small-town politician who finds herself unwillingly carted off to the loony bin. There she meets and is befriended by Fabio (Marcin Dorociński); a hoodlum with a brain, a heart of gold, and killer stubble, who’s pretending to be a bit of a nut so he doesn’t have to go to prison. Fabio is a bad bad boy, but you can tell he’s a good egg underneath it all and probably only guns people down if they really deserve it, or if they’re ugly. Luiza is as innocent and sweet as the day is long and it quickly becomes apparent that she’s just a bit oversensitive rather than being an out and out loony tune. Daddy is running for Mayor and her dancing-on-the-roof type antics are causing him embarrassment, hence the brief holiday with the dotty doctors.

Ahh… isn’t she sweet?

Little of the plot takes place in the sanatorium since Fabio soon gets sprung by his cunning mafia boss and quickly finds an excuse to go back and liberate the enchanting Luiza for whom he’s fallen head over heels in a ‘she’s so sweet and innocent and I haven’t even noticed she’s got a killer bod’ kind of way. Back in his rented villa they set up what will inevitably be a short-lived happy home with a rescued cat. Luiza sets about renovating the garden he’s barely noticed (hence the title I assume) and Fabio begins to think about getting out of the gangster business once and for all. Just one last job.

And no he’s still not thinking about her cleavage, honest.

Turns out that the cunning mafia boss, who also happens to be a lawyer (shock horror), had a reason for springing Fabio; a reason that involves a high-powered rifle and the demise of a particularly troublesome policeman who the papers are calling the ‘Polish Elliot Ness.’ One last job and Fabio can be on a plane to Mexico with Luiza posing as his sister, a suitcase full of cash, and the rescued cat posing as… well, a rescued cat.

I’m giving nothing away by letting on that the assassination doesn’t go exactly to plan. There are a couple of genuinely unforeseeable twists that wind up with some people in the morgue and others waiting in a Warsaw departure lounge. Rescued-cat makes it to the end unscathed and Luiza manages to do a bit of skinny dipping even though we’re absolutely definitely not supposed to be thinking about her womanly charms at any point.

Marcin Dorociński clearly deserves his Best Actor award from the Gdynia Film Festival. His deadpan delivery of the down-to-earth wit that constitutes much of the film’s humor is spot on and his whole performance rings true in that indefinable way that really good actors have of ringing true. Patrycja Soliman’s Luiza lacks a certain amount of credibility, but this is much more to do with the slightly confused rendition of mental illness offered by the script than it has to do with her undoubted abilities. The story is pure fantasy from beginning to end, but charmingly done. By the way, the English subtitles on the version I saw were generally good (better than many I’ve seen) but still riddled with silly errors and the occasional ridiculously awkward gaff. How hard would it be to get these things read through by a competent copy editor before they’re released?

Final verdict: One of the best home-grown Polish films I’ve seen in a long time. Go see it and forget about that overblown Katyń nonsense.

More Polish Movie Reviews? You got it.

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