Thursday 23 November 2017

Polish Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews Ryszard Bugajski's BLINDNESS (Poland, 2016)

Seriousness doesn’t come any higher than Zacma/Blindness, screened in the Polish Film Festival running parallel with at least three of those other National manifestations at the moment.

Director Ryszard Bugajski came to our attention (after resisting a demand that he turn police informer while working with Andrej Wadja’s unit) for his 1982 Christina Janda film The Interrogation which was banned in its native Poland until the fall of the Soviet Empire, sending Bugajski off to make series TV in the U.S.

He’s clearly invested in the subject of Zacma, which manages to get stuck into Judaism, Communism and Catholicism as shades in an ideological spectrum or some kind of belief system progression. To give it a bit more weight several of its characters, “Bloody Julia” head of the state unit set up to eliminate religion in Iron Curtain Poland and her opponent Cardinal Wyszynski are drawn from history.

When the smoke clears the pair find themselves among the people still standing, portrayed by the director’s wife Maria Mamona and Marek Kalita. Her one-time bureau chief character is getting a bit shaky with a continuing inquiry into her sadistic methods, a ‘phone that rings without there being anyone at the other end and spooky flash backs to her excesses and failures. She drives off to a Catholic school for the blind, promised an interview with the Primate there.

Maria Mamona (r), Blindness
The film gets a bit blurry on the line between reality and her perception of it, with one of her victims having identified himself as Jesus Christ and doing miracles with the cigarettes that our heroine is chain smoking - great effects work. Blind priest Janusz Gajos was supposed to have had his eyes burned out by interrogators (it’s that kind of film) but still has them in later scenes. Mamona’s meeting with Kalita has them plowing through notions of guilt, ideology and the existence of God but when ex-Jew/ex-poet, now nun Malgorzata Zajaczkowska comes into the chapel which Mamona disrespects, she finds her crouched alone there. 

However, we get less fuzzy characterisation on the groundsman picked out as a police spy and the pair of cops who grope Mamona in the bar, where a wake is being held, clearly for real and there's a scene where she tries to off herself with that pistol in her hand bag.

All this makes a serious American film like Doubt seem quite jolly. A more interesting comparison is with John Lvoff’s 2001 L'homme des foules Man of the Crowds which centres on former torturer Jerzy Radziwilowicz in the post liberalisation era and his blind (what is this with guilty Communists and blindness?) Department Head and doesn’t root around in belief systems but puts forward human corruptibility as the root of excesses.

Is Zacma a work of determined earnestness? No doubt there. Did it convince me of any basic truth that had so far eluded me and did it make me feel I’d picked right out of the seven one off movies I could have been watching last night?  I’d have to say no on those - and it cost twenty bucks, no concessions.

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