Tuesday 24 September 2019

Streaming on SBS On Demand - RAVEN/KRUK (Dir: Maciej Pieprzyca, Scr: Jakub Karolczuk)

Times used to be when the two Polish films at the film festival used to be amongst the most anticipated. If Andrzej Wajda had made a film that year, the authorities permitting its export, that would be one and there would be another by the likes of Alexander Ford, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Kazimierz Kutz, Jerzy Skolimowski, Kryzstof Zanussi, Wojciech Has or more. We would get allegories about the power of the state, comedies about bureaucracy, youthful exuberance and rebellion, Cybulski and Olbrychski and Kyrstina Janda and Beata Tiskiewicz. Into the 80s young directors emerged to take on the very same subjects, often very extravagantly, even more ferociously, but hiding their purposes and intentions of bringing down the whole apparatus behind surreal moments, youthful exuberance and rebellion.

I still remember one of my three nights in Warsaw when an acquaintance from Film Polski invited me home and we were joined by Filip Bajon, Janus Kijowski and Peter Sczulkin. The Melbourne Film Festival had just added Kieslowski and Feliks Falk to its roster of discoveries and the amazing actor, later director, Jerzy Stuhr was coming to prominence. I was told that the next big thing was a young woman Agnieszka Holland who had just made a movie called Provincial Actors  which in 1978 had won a major prize at CannesThat night I discovered that the joke about the New Zealander and the failed brain transplant was an old Polish anti-Russian jest.

Then, around about the time that Lech Walensa brought the edifice down it all stopped. The state-based production system clogged up, went broke and, more importantly film-makers, seemed to lose their subject and their mojo.

Michal Zurawski in the title role Kruk/Raven
It all came flooding back, pardon any memory lapses, when I started watching Kruk/Raven  a six part police procedural directed by Maciej Pieprzyca from a script Jakub Karolczuk It's produced by Canal+ and is screening without anybody seeming to notice on SBS on demand. (Then again it's dangerous in days when you've stopped reading newspapers to suggest that the media might have missed it. Who knows...)

Kruk is a cop with a sore neck and, inevitably, an addiction. He has the usual trope of having narrowly escaped child sexual abuse in an orphanage but he is accompanied by a constant presence -the grown up version of the boy whom he sent in his place to visit the superintendent and who suicided immediately thereafter. He also has a pregnant wife.

Kruk is sent off from Lodz to Bialystock to ostensibly investigate cigarette smuggling but darker things are afoot - including, in the station he's assigned to, a whole panoply of corrupt and violent cops with guilty secrets . One cop even has a local goon squad he calls on to do his dirty work.  Kruk initially demonstrates seeming psychic powers by uncovering a a little robbery but then he's off on the big one, uncovering the secrets of the paedophile ring from long ago from which he harbours his own guilty secret.

Kruk has to battle against forces of power but also against spiritual forces summoned up  by an old lady and  does it despite the mind-bending fug of the pain-killing drugs he needs to function and the constant harping of his imaginary accompanist, the ghost from the orphanage past. All of this is played out in the darkest of Polish winters where the sky and the townscape are just different shades of dirty grey.

In the end, having solved the crime, having seen most of the main characters off by either shooting or suicide, Kruk is curled up with his pregnant wife and the ghost, now once again a child seems to happily move on. It suggests more to come.

I can't say I've even been checking out the Polish films at the Sydney Film Festival or going to the Polish Film Festival for a long time so who knows...  That was because I thought the days of the Poles surprising us, drilling down into a society where everybody is on the take or the make, were well and truly over but...not so.

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