Agnieszka Holland (Poland, 1948)
graduated in 1971 not from the legendary Lodz school of film in Poland but from the no less legendary Prague Film School (FAMU) in Czechoslovakia and, upon returning to Poland, was hired as assistant director by Krzysztof Zanussi and then as screenwriter by Andrzej Wajda.
She debuted as director with
Aktorzy Prowincjonalni/ Provincial Actors (1978),
one of the films that launched the "kino moralnego niepokoju" (cinema of moral anxiety),
starring the filmmaker Tomasz Zygadlo in the lead role.
After Goraczka/ Fever (1980), about the failed revolution of 1905,
and the gloomy moral tale of
Kobieta Samotna/ A Woman Alone (1981), with
a soundtrack by Jan Kanty Pawluskiewicz,
she left Poland.
In exile after 1981 she directed the visceral and claustrophobic
Bittere Ernte/ Angry Harvest (1985), shot in West Germany with a mostly German cast, about the
a sadistic Catholic rural man and a helpless Jewish city woman who depends on him for her surival,
as well as the English-language film
To Kill a Priest (1988).
She also scripted Yurek Bogayevicz's Anna (1987), made in the USA.
The historical German-language drama Europa Europa (1991) is a diligent transposition of
Solomon Perel's autobiography (1989).
The film opens with the metaphorical images of two men swimming underwater,
trying to stay alive.
The story is narrated by the protagonist, Solomon/ Solek/ Solly, who shares his
birthday with Hitler.
He was born the fourth child of two devout Jews in Germany. He is particularly
attached to his sister Bertha.
Their father runs a little shop until the day that the Nazis attack and
destroy Jewish shops.
Solek is taking a bath and jumps out of the window naked and hides into a
barrel. His neighbor Kathy finds him and hands him clothes (Nazi clothes).
His sister Bertha has been killed.
His father decides to move the family to Poland, away from the Nazi fanatics.
They take a room above a movie theater and Solek finds his first love, a
girl with a hump, Basia. But soon Germany invades Poland. The older brother
David returns from the front, having deserted after certain defeat.
Their father decides to send the teenage boys, Isaac and Solek, as far east as possible to protect them from the Nazis.
Isaac and Solek get separated in the chaos of a ferry boarding as thousands
of people try to leave just like them.
Just then the Poles
learn that the Soviet Union has invaded from the east due to a pact between
Stalin and Hitler. The Poles prefer Hitler and turn the ferry back.
The Jews prefer the Bolsheviks and swim to the other side. He is
saved by Russian soldiers. He waits in vain for his brother. He is sent to
an orphanage where he spends two years being indoctrinated by the communists.
His father sends him letters from the ghetto where all the Polish Jews have
been confined. Solek, meanwhile, becomes a good communist. Catholic Poles
refuse to accept the doctrine that religion is the opium of the masses
and defend the notion that God exists but their female instructor makes fun
of such notion and shows that Stalin is more powerful than God in providing
candies to the children. Just then the roof collapses because the Germans
started bombing Soviet-occupied Poland. Solek and the other children join
the long line of refugees. Planes attack them and he gets separated from
the group as their truck doesn't wait to pick him up.
Left alone in middle of nowhere, he is captured by the Germans.
To save his life, he lies about being a pure German, not a Jew, called Josef/Jupp,
was captured by the Russians. He then becomes a translator for the German
army. He helps identify Stalin's son, who is one of the prisoners.
A Catholic Pole shouts that Solek is a Jew but the Germans don't understand.
Then he tries to escape but is run over by truck and killed.
Solek, who is now called Josef/Jupp, is only 16 but everybody likes him,
particularly a German who was an actor and is clearly attracted to him.
Solek meets the commander who tells him that the war is not about conquering
land but about liberating Europe of the Jews. Nonetheless, Solek keeps working
for the Germans.
The former actor finds out that Jupp is circumcised when he tries to seduce him.
Instead of reporting him, the former actor feels protective.
He is soon killed in the trenches when the Russians are about to overrun the
German troops. Solek cries because that was his only friend, even if gay.
The Germans retreat and solek calls the Soviets on the phone and tells them
he is a Jew who pretended to be a German and wants to be freed by them.
Accidentally, this led to the capture of the Russians by the Germans.
Jupp/Solek is hailed as a hero. The
commander decides to send him to school in Germany and
even wants to adopt him thinking that he is an orphan.
A Nazi woman takes him by train to Germany. She gets
excited that his birthday is Hitler's birthday and makes love to him
as if she was making love to Hitler (during the
orgasm she cries "My Fuhrer"). Ironically she's making love to a Jew.
The school welcomes him as a hero.
Jupp is forced to swear to serve Hitler and persecute the Jews.
He has to hide his circumcized penis from his roommate.
A German girl falls in love with him, Leni, but he cannot make love to her
for fear that she will see his penis.
The school is all about preparing the kids to persecute and exterminate Jews.
A teacher comically identifies Jupp's somatic traits as purely Aryan.
They receive the news that Stalingrad is lost. He has several
dates with Leni.
Leni invites him to her home and introduces him to her mother.
Her father died in battle.
During the annual doctor visit Jupp fakes a tootache to avoid having to strip
naked. The dentist removes a heathy tooth. Leni wants sex but Jupp refuses.
Leni tells him that she wants to kill all Jews, and he slaps her.
She dumps him. Solek has a nightmare in which he returns to his family but
they shun him. Her sister hides him in a closet with Hitler.
When he wakes up, he decides to travel to the Polish ghetto and look
for his family. Even as a pure German, he is only allowed to take the
trolley through the ghetto. He is not sure if he sees his mother, but he
definitely see the miserable conditions in which the Jews are kept: starving
faces, dead corpes loaded on carts like meat, poverty everywhere.
One day he looks for Leni and her mother tells him that she got pregnant:
she is so brainwashed that she feels her duty to give a child to Hitler.
The father is Jupp's friend Gerd.
The mother guesses that Jupp is not a real German.
He confesses and breaks down in tears.
She hugs him.
Back at the dorm he attacks Gerd.
The Nazis are still dreamin of victory even if they are losing everywhere.
The police asks him for his certificate of pure German race. He fears that
this will expose him as the fraud that he is but just then the Soviet Union
begins to bomb Berlin. The Russians enter Berlin and the kids fight to the
last man. Jupp can't shoot the Russians like them. He starts running towards
them. The Russians capture him and don't believe that he is a Jew. They show
him pictures of what the Germans did to the Jews: the massacres in the
concentration camps. Solek didn't know about it. The Russians are about to
execute him when someone recognizes him: it's his brother Isaac, just liberated
from one such camp. His parents are dead. The brothers decide to
emigrated to Palestine.
Then came Olivier Olivier (1992) in French,
but the she switched to the English language with
The Secret Garden (1993), an adaptation of Frances Burnett's novel "The Secret Garden" (1911), with music by Zbigniew Preisner,
Total Eclipse (1995), a mediocre biopic about the homosexual love between the
French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud,
Washington Square (1997), a diligent adaptation of Henry James' novel,
none of which ranks among her best.
She collaborated to Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue (1994).
The English-language The Third Miracle (1999), adapted from a novel by Richard Vetere,
is an odd existential film disguised as an odd detective film.
The protagonist, a priest, is on a mission to reestablish his own faith,
and can do so only after his own personal pilgrimage through the misery
of human life.
It is a fantastic story, full of twists just like a thriller, but much more
profound than a traditional thriller. The credit goes, of course, to the
novelist, not to the filmmaker. But the filmmaker fills every second of
the story with an atmosphere that borders on the apocalyptic. A calm that
indeed seems to come from a god.
During World War II a child, Helena, shocked her townfolks by refusing to
run away from the bombs that the USA planes were dropping on her town.
She ran to the church to pray the Madonna, and the bombs disappeared.
A German soldier stared at the miracle in disbelief.
(From the beginning we know that she was indeed capable of miracles).
Decades later in Chicago a priest, John, visits Frank, a man who lives in a hotel
for tramps and eats at public kitchens run by charities. Frank is also
a priest, but has been living among the poor for eight months now.
The reason is that he debunked an alleged miracle, disappointing the faithftul
who had come to believe in it. That event has caused a crisis in him.
Frank, lured by John back to his job of "miracle killer", is assigned the investigation
of an alleged miracle in a very Catholic neighborhood. The miracle has become
a major event, that draws pilgrims from all over. A Madonna statue is believed
to cry blood in november when it rains. That is the month when a local woman
died: her name was Helen and she worked among the poor.
A girl, Maria, has been cured of an incurable disease when she touched the
Frank visits the church and witnesses the scenes of worship by the faithful
and the sick who come hoping for a miracle. He also witnesses a new miracle:
a young man who could not walk and the following day walks normally.
This time the miracle seems to withstand close scrutiny. Frank behavees as
if he were the one who needed a miracle: he dives into the holy waters like
all the other pilgrims.
Frank interviews Helen's daughter Roxanne, who is bitter about her mother
(her mother abandoned her when she was little to take care of the poor).
Needless to say, Roxanne is initially disgusted by the very idea that
her mother could be considered a saint by anyone.
Frank is a rational priest and, confronted by Roxanne, almost admits that
he doesn't believe in saints.
The next step in his investigation is finding Maria, now a teenager.
Her mother tells him
that she has become a teenage prostitute and drug addict. Her own mother
says "God wasted a miracle". Nonetheless Frank ventures into a really bad
neighborhood looking for her.
As he tells a monk friend, this is a chance to compensate for the damage
he caused to the previous community. This time he senses that the miracle
could be real. And he desperately wants it to be real, so that he can forgive
himself for destroying the faith of an entire neighborhood in the previous
Maria eventually shows up in a church. Frank wants to hear that she prayed
Helen for a miracle and she got one. Instead, Maria tells him that she prayed
Helen to die.
Frank gets drunk and then visits John, confessing that he has lost his faith.
He is struggling to get it back.
Roxanne gets arrested for arguing with a police officer, but luckily Frank
is at the police station when they bring her in and gets her released. It turns
out that Frank's father was a police officer and Frank knows everybody at the
station. Released, she falls in love with Frank, and they almost make love.
Frank resists the temptation at the last minute.
On a rainy day Frank witnesses the miracle. He tastes the red tears coming down
from the statue's eyes and they taste like blood. Convinced that this is
indeed a miracle, he can't wait to tell the tribunal sent by the Vatican,
but there he hits the snag of bureaucracy. The leading archibishop, from
Germany, is ideologically opposed to miracles, and the procedure is
Called by the police, Frank rushes to Maria's apartment: her boyfriend is
dead, and Maria is dying at the hospital of a drug overdose.
Frank tells Roxanne that he has decided to recommend her mother for sainthood.
She is hurt, insulted that the person who abandoned her may be declared a saint.
(Was Frank attracted to her because of her beauty or because he sees her
as the daughter of a saint?)
Maria is dying at the hospital. We see her reminiscence of how Helen used to
play with her, and how Maria went to the statue and saw it cry blood.
The tribunal meets to discuss Frank's report. The German archbishop is
stubbornly opposed to sainthood: he just doesn't see sainthood in the
private life of this housewife. Frank omits to tell the tribunal that this
woman actually abandoned a daughter. He only focuses on the miracle.
The archbishop, far from being only a contemptious bigot, sees through
Frank's soul. He sees that Frank "believes in nothing" but nonetheless will
continue to fight for this miracle. John tries in vain to refrain Frank's
bitter rebukes of the archbishop's accusations.
Interestingly, the archibishop admits that he once saw a miracle himself,
but doesn't say which one.
Frank and his monk friend are now onto something new. A plane that was
taking off has made a statuette fall, and Frank has read in the back that
it was made in Slovakia. Everybody always thought that Helen was from Austria,
and that the story of the bombing was just a fairy tale told by old folks.
Now Frank believes that Helen was from Slovakia and that one might find out
the truth about that legend in her real hometown.
Frank is also beginning to understand what Roxannes never understood about
her mother: that her mother felt she had a higher duty and thus abandoned
her daughter to work for the poor. Roxanne initially refuses to attend the
tribunal on the day when they are to discuss this episode, but then shows
up. Asked what her mother said when she abandoned her, all Roxanne can
remember is "I owe God".
Frank's monk friend calls from Slovakia. He has found the village and
everybody knows the story of how Helen/Helena stopped the bombs.
Unfortunately, Slovakia is under communist rule and people are afraid
even to go to church, let alone testifying on a case of sainthood.
Maria is in a irreversible coma at the hospital. The doctors decide to remove
the tube that keeps her alive. Frank witnesses the event and whispers to
the mother "God doesn't waste miracles" before returning to the tribunal.
The arrogant archbishop uses Maria herself to weakend the cause of Helen:
Maria was a prostitute and died of an overdose, not exactly the kind of
miracle one expects from God. Frank loses his temper, but is interrupted
when his friend asks everybody to rush and witness a new mirale: Maria has
de facto resurrected.
The evidence that something out of the ordinary is happening is now
overwhelming, but the German archbishop has not changed his mind: first of
all it takes three miracles and these two only count as one because they
involve the same person (Maria), and secondly he doubts the messenger's faith,
Unable to lie,
Frank does admit that God has given him doubts, but passionately argues that
Helen's sainthood has nothing to do with the current weakness of his faith.
Unfortunately, the monk friend fails to find Slovakian witnesses willing
to prove that there was indeed a previous miracle, as required by the Church.
Even if he cannot prove it, Frank tells the tribunal what he believes happened.
As he starts telling the story of Helena in Slovakia, the German archbishop
faints. The meeting is adjourned until he recovers. That night the archbishop
calls Frank to his apartment and confesses that he was in that village when
the miracle happened. He was the German soldier who stared at the sky in the
first scene. He saw the bombs turn into a flock of birds.
Ten years later Frank is a priest in a neighborhood church and Roxanne is
married with a child in the same neighborhood. Helen is still in line for
sainthood: they need a third one. But maybe the third one is Frank, who
found his faith again thanks to Helen.
The prison drama
Shot in the Heart (2001), based on a real murder case, has a structure
similar to Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking.
The family drama Julie Walking Home (2002) fails to explore the mystical
theme that triggers the whole story.
Copying Beethoven (2006) is a mediocre biopic.
The very long historical drama
W Ciemnosci/ In Darkness (2011) is based on real events during Germany's occupation of Poland in World War II: a humble Polish worker of Lviv,
Leopold "Poldek" Socha, saved ten Jews from German arrest and deportation.
The film creates suspense, and doesn't present anyone as a saint: they are
all sinners (thieves, violent men, adulterers, selfish, greedy, and so on).
It's humanity at its worst, and, at the same time, at its best, as good as
it can be. The strongest metaphor is that the whole story takes place in
the sewers, in the shit. Humans have to find dignity in the most undignified
of situations. There is no paradise, no promised land, but there is a purgatory
from which sinners can emerge as dignified beings.
Two Polish men are robbing a house when a kid and a girl dressed in Nazi uniforms walk in. The girl speaks Polish and tells them that there's nothing to steal.
Meanwhile, the boy grabs a gun and the girl tells him to shoot the thieves
but the gun has no bullets. One of the thieves hits the boy and then curses the girl for sleeping with a German.
As the two thieves run through the woods they hear the screams of women:
the Nazis are forcing women to run naked towards a mass grave,
where later they are slaughtered.
The older thief, Poldek, walks home and has sex with his wife
while their daughter Stefcia is asleep.
Meanwhile, Jewish men are digging a hole in the floor of their overcrowded
apartment: the Nazis have gathered all the Jews of the city in a ghetto and
life has become unbearable. Germans treat Jews like animals, scorn them,
torture them, kill them. Poldek and his younger buddy
Szczepek are actually workers in the sewers of the city: nobody knows the
maze of the sewers better than Poldek. They hear a noise coming from the
ghetto and guess what is happening: just then the Jews have completed
their hole and can now jump into the sewers, i.e. they have a way to escape
from the ghetto. Poldek and his buddy blackmail them: they want money to
keep silent. Poldek warns them that the sewers are a maze and offers himself
as a scout for more money.
Szczepek is scared that the Nazis will find out and will hang them, but Poldek
reassures him that they can always turn in the Jews after obtaining all their
money. At the same time,
the Jews don't trust him and are consider killing both of these dangerous
witnesses. But Poldek and one of the Jews, Ignacy Chiger, reach an agreement.
At a cafe a Ukrainian collaborator of the Nazis,
Bortnik, recognizes Poldek, whom he calls "Pirate": they were best friends
when they spent time in jail.
Bortnik blesses the German invasion as a liberation.
Meanwhile, one of the Jews, Janek, has sex with another woman, Chaja, while
his wife is sleeping in the next bed.
Poldek and Szczepek are working in the sewers when they hear the sound of
the Nazis are assembling all Jews for deporation, and shooting scores of them.
There is panic in the streets.
Chiger's wife Paulina runs home to find her two children, Krysya and Pawel,
hiding in a closet.
All the Jews who share that apartment are frantically trying to get down into
the sewers via the hole dug mainly by Janek and Mundek.
Janek's wife is one who refuses to leave: she tells Janek to choose between
her and his lover, and Janek chooses Chaja.
Mundek is in love with Klara, whose younger sister Mania soon has a hysterical
attack and wants to go back. Mundek helps rescue her.
Poldek leads them to a safe hideout in the sewers and then walks home.
Luckily he runs into Bortnik who is shooting Jews because a German officer
arrests him as a Jew.
Poldek tells his wife Wanda that the Jews crucified Jesus and they deserve
punishment, but his wife reminds him that Jesus and the apostles were all Jews.
While the Jews are asleep in the sewers, Mania disappears.
Klara is desperate, Mundek looks in vain for the girl.
Poldek buys a lot of food, and the
shopowner is suspicious that suddenly he has a lot of money.
Poldek takes three of the Jews to another chamber of the sewers, which is
much safer. He tells them that only ten people can live there, and makes them
choose who the ten will be. They don't argue much as the choises are inevitable:
Janek and his girl Chaja, Mundek and his girl Klara, the
Chigers (husband, his wife Paulina and their children Krysya and Pawel),
and two more.
The others are abandoned to die in the sewer.
When he gets home, Poldek finds Bortnik waiting for him: he has evidence that Jews are hiding in the sewers and wants Poldek to lead the soldiers there.
Bortnik boasts that he is paid for every Jew that he catches.
Poldek takes Bortnik and his soldiers down there but then finds a way to send
them in the wrong direction and saves the Jews.
Szczepek tells Poldek's wife Wanda about the Jews, not knowing that Poldek
never told her about it. Wanda is scared.
Bortnik tells Poldek that some Jews were indeed found in the sewers, presumably
the ones left behind when Poldek took only ten.
Szczepek has had enough and bails out.
Poldek in the sewers finds the dead Jews.
Now that the ghetto has been emptied,
Mundek and Klara walk upstairs to the abandoned apartment to rescue what they
Poldek keeps bringing food to the Jews and Chiger pays him weekly, but,
eventually, Chiger runs out of money. He tells Poldek where he hid the family
jewels. Poldek digs them out and brings them home and shows them to Wanda.
Janek is going insane. One night he and two other men leave the group while
everybody else is asleep.
Poldek thinks that this is a betrayal and also jeopardizes his own life,
and decides to give back he jewels and tells them that he quits too.
Mundek tries to strangle Poldek fearing he will turn them in to the Nazis,
but the others know that Poldek could have betrayed them before and kept the jewels.
Poldek and Szczepek fight in the street when the young man tells Poldek that
his girl Marysia is pregnant and Poldek doubts who the father is.
Mundek ventures outside and is arrested by a Nazi who is about to shoot him.
Poldek is passing by and manages to distract the Nazi until he and Poldek
can attack him and kill him.
Poldek also rescued the two children, Krysia and Pawel, who got lost in the maze.
Poldek takes the jewels again and resumes his help.
Poldek learns that the Germans hanged ten Poles for the German whom he killed,
and shot 40 more.
He stops in front of the ten hanged men and sees that one of them is
One day a man discovers the Jews hiding in the sewers and runs in the streets
Poldek leads the Jews to another hideout, smaller but even more difficult to
Poldek and Mundek find the dead bodies of Janek and his two friends: they didn't get very far when they left the group.
Poldek escorts Mundek out in the streets of the city: Mundek
wants to enter the concentration camp of the city and find Mania.
A middleman (who doesn't want to be paid) arranges a switch with a prisoner for two days.
Once in the camp, Mundek is found without a cap. A soldier is about to shoot
him, but his boss coldly tells the soldier not to waste a bullet on a healthy
Jew and instead shoots the Jew next to Mundek, who is a weaker man.
Chaja is pregnant of Janek, and Poldek witnesses the moment when her baby
is born, even though the mother's screams can be heard from the street above
and risks attracting people.
Poldek tells them that Janek is dead.
Wanda, despite being scared of Poldek's illegal plot, offers to adopt the baby,
but, when Poldek returns to the Jews, Chaja has already smothered the baby
who is just a complication.
Meanwhile, Mundek in the camp finds Mania.
Mania refuses to leave the camp. Janek's wife is also there. Mundek tells
her that Janek is dead. She starts screaming hysterically and a guard shoots
Mundek returns to the sewer and
brings the news to Mania's sister Klara. They make love.
The girl Krysia is sick. Poldek
carries her outside in the streets to breath fresh air
and she gets better.
Chiger has run out of money but Poldek still helps them. In fact,
Poldek gives Chiger money so Chiger can pay him in front of everybody.
A drunk Bortnik visits Poldek in the middle of the night and
Poldek's girl almost betrays him.
It starts raining heavily during the celebration of the girl's first communion,
which takes place in a church located right on top of the underground
room where the Jews are hiding.
Poldek realizes that the Jews will drown in the sewers. He leaves Wanda
and the girl in the church and heads for the nearest manhole. He witnesses
Bortnik's group laying landmines because the Russians are advancing.
Poldek stops them and explains that there are gas pipes down there that
will blow up the entire city. Bortnik follows him into the sewers and quickly
understands that Poldek has a different motive to venture into the sewers
during the storm. He guesses the truth, that Poldek has always betrayed him,
pulls out the gun but can't shoot his old friend.
Poldek abandons him. The Jews are indeed drowning and only have a few more
minutes before being submerged by the rising waters. Poldek can only pray.
His prayer works because suddenly something breaks and the water rushes out
of the sewer system, killing Bortnik and emptying the room with the Jews.
Poldek wakes up all dirty and wet, but alive, and smiles seeing the Jews
are also alive and hailing a miracle. When he gets home, he finds the house
empty: Wanda, clearly furious that he deserted their daughter's first communion, left with the child. His suit is completely destroyed.
However, Wanda comes back, and, when she sees him in such a terrible state,
she starts laughing.
The Russians enter the city. The Jews can crawl out of a manhole into the
street, while shocked Polish passers-by watch the surreal scene.
They are free and alive.
Wanda herself brings them food and drinks.
Unfortunately, the final words on the screen are that
Poldek was killed a few weeks later trying to save
her daughter from an out-of-control Soviet vehicle,
and then someone commented that it was God's punishment for saving Jews.
The television miniseries Horicki Ker/ Burning Bush (2013),
written by the Czech screenwriter Stepan Hulik and
based on the real events of the 1969 Czech protests against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia,
is a moving four-hour historical drama (reduced to a two and a half hour film) that begins with the most famous event of that era: the public self-immolation of Jan Palach.
That's the starting point for a surgical inspection of the communist society.
The third part is a courtroom drama, won by the communist state, but the whole story is de facto a courtroom drama in which that state loses.
The impeccable historical reconstruction avoids melodrama and instead delivers
a universal message simply by showing the imperfect humanity behind the historical events.
The film opens with footage of mass protests and military tanks, a one-minute
summary of the events of 1968.
In August 1968 the armies of the Soviet Union and its allies crushed the
democratic movement in Czechoslovakia.
The film begins in January 1969 with documentary-like images of ordinary life.
A man boiling his soup watches as a young man stops by the museum across
the street, pours gasoline on himself
and sets himself on fire. Passers-by rush to put off the fire but the young man
is fatally injured.
His last words are about the briefcase that he left by the museum.
A student who witnessed the event runs to tell his friends
coming out of court, including Dagmar and Vladka.
He opened the briefcase and found a letter about a movement of anti-communists,
each of them ready to set himself on fire.
The martyr, Jan, left behind a letter that demands an end to censorship and threatens
more "human torches" within five days.
The investigator, Jires, reads it to his superior, who tells him that it is imperative
to stop the students otherwise the Soviet Union will take over their government.
Jan's two roommates are in disbelief that Jan would kill himself but they find his diary where he talks of the "human torches" group.
Meanwhile, Ondrej realizes that the very Jan had come to ask them to organize a strike and he, Ondrej, had ignored him.
His brother Jiri is summoned to his town's telephone booth where he is informed that
Jan is in grave conditions at the hospital.
Ondrej obtains a minister's support to broadcast Jan's letter.
Jiri arrives at the hospital but the doctor doesn't allow him to see Jan because Jan is too sick. The doctor advises him to go and tell his mother in person before she learns it from the news, and arranges an ambulance to drive him there.
On the way to his mother, Jiri sees a column of military tanks.
It turns out that his mother just took the train to go and visit Jan in the capital, and on the train she learns from a newspaper of the tragedy.
Jiri picks her up at a station.
Meanwhile, Jires is interrogating Jan's roommates who tell him about Jan's friend Hana. When Jires approaches her, she thinks that he is from the secret police, which makes Jires suspect that she's an informant for the secret police (while Jires is an ordinary cop).
Ondrej has convinced the factory workers and the railway workers to go on strike.
Jiri and his mother return to the hospital, where a crowd of paparazzi
has assembled and where Jires' aid Bocek is mounting guard.
Jan's doctor allows them to see Jan briefly.
Dagmar is married to another doctor, Radim, and they have two girls,
Zuzanka and Lucinda.
Dagmar learns that her friend Vladka went missing from Vladka's father Vladimir, who is also her boss: they fear that Vladka is the designated next human torch,
but Vladka shows up unharmed.
Jires protects two kids who are distributing flyers, showing that he is not a brutal member of the secret police.
Jan speaks his first words and asks for Hana. Jires immediately takes her to the hospital hoping that she can learn the names of the other "torches": Jires is honestly just trying to save the lives of the aspiring torches.
Hana, however, cannot understand anything of what Jan says.
Nonetheless, Jires' boss decides that they will create a fake message to the members of the group and it will be read by Hana on television as if she received it from Jan.
The whole country watches the special. Both the factory workers and the railway workers cancel their strike, leaving Ondrej's students on their own.
Jan's doctor informs Jan's mother that Jan has died.
Ondrey receives the news that Jan has died.
Jiri and his mother prepare a flyer to commemorate Jan.
That night thousands of people join in the streets, holding candles.
Ondrey's group meets at the morgue and gets a cast of Jan's head.
During the night they removed a statue of Lenin and replace it with the
cast of Jan's head.
Historical footage shows the real funerals, mixed with the fictional reconstruction by the actors.
Four weeks later, an article in the main newspaper quotes a politician
claiming that Jan was part of a right-wing group in cahoots with Ondrej's
student movement, and that he actually didn't intend to kill himself.
Ondrej, Jiri and his mother visit Dagmar because they want to sue the politician for defamation, but Dagmar dismisses it as a crazy idea: the politician is obviously obeying orders from the Soviet Union.
Even Jires is incensed and demands that his office not be quoted as the source of this conspiracy theory.
Eight months later Dagmar has obtained the trial and has one key witness, a young man who admires her.
The politicians, however, are planning to shut the trial up.
Jiri's family is ruined and his mother is in a mental asylum.
Dagmar's house is watched by cops.
Dagmar's husband Radim is persecuted: a nurse is forced to lie and accuse him,
and his boss intervenes in vain to minimize the punishment: Radim is fired.
Jiri is told that the state is upset by the number of visitors to Jan's grave and that Jan's grave will be moved to another town's cemetery.
The day of the trial only the lawyer and the witnesses are admitted, and the
trial is conducted in a simple meeting room.
Dagmar demolishes the politician's version of the facts,
but her key witness refuses to show up and the others all don't remember.
Dagmar decides to attack the politician's record with files that she keps
in her office, his prison record,
but her boss Vladimir stole them one night, and Dagmar's
assistant Pavel saw him. Dagmar refuses to believe that her own boss would
steal her most important evidence against the politician.
We see that Vladimir delivers the files to the state in return for guarantees
that his daughter Vladka will not be investigated when the state begins
investigating the student movement.
Dagmar confronts her boss Vladimir about the disappeared prison records
but, instead of confessing, he implies that Pavel himself may have stolen them.
Damgar has to look for new evidence. Her loyal assistant Pavel finds out that someone from a radio
station made a recording of the meeting at which the politician defamed Jan.
Luckily for Dagmar, the man who has the recording is
retiring, divorced and had no children so he is not afraid of repercussions.
Jan's mother is released from the hospital and Jiri asks her to move in with him and his wife.
When the damning tape is played in the courtroom, the camera follows a wire and shows that in the adjacent room the secret police is listening to it.
The judge is now ready to deliver the verdict but the secret police hands her an envelope with... the verdict.
The politician is acquitted and Jan's family is sentenced to pay the legal expenses.
Since the family refuses to move Jan's grave to another cemetery, the state simply cremates it.
His mother and brother find out when they go to the cemetery and see that the grave doesn't exist anymore.
Twenty years later kids are spreading Jan Palach fliers all over the capital, and a few months later the regime collapsed.
The ending of the film informs us that Dagmar became minister of justice.
The last image is a close-up of Jan Palach as a child.
Pokot/ Spoor (2017) is one of her best, an adaptation of
Olga Tokarczuk's "Prowadz Swoj Plug Przez Kosci Umarlych/ Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead" (2009).
Obywatel Jones/ Mr Jones (2019) is a biopic based on real events,
a real-life spy thriller, and a splendid reconstruction of an era,
possibly one of the best historical dramas about the tragedies of the 20th century.
The film opens with pigs in a stable.
The stable is surrounded by a wheat field.
On the other side of the field a man called George is typing a story on
He means to write the story of human monsters by using talking animals.
(He's George Orwell, starting to write his famous satirical novella "The Animal Farm").
A flashback to 1933 when Hitler is a rising star in Germany.
A young foreign adviser, Gareth Jones, who has just interviewed
Goebbels and Hitler, tries in vain to warn the British cabinet
that Hitler is preparing to ban all oppositions and for a war of expansion.
The British politicians laugh at his opinions, thinking they are just
Gareth never gets to tell them his other opinion: that Britain will
have to ally with Stalin, a man who has performed miracles in Russia, in order to fight Hitler.
Gareth is amazed that the Soviets are enjoying an economic miracle while the
West is mired in the Great Depression.
He is soon one of the victims of the economic crisis: he is fired by the government.
He pays his own ticket to travel to Russia and interview Stalin. He wants to
find out who is funding Stalin's economic boom.
Trying to arrange an interview with Stalin,
Gareth calls his friend Paul who is in Russia and Paul tells him that
he just discovered something big, but Paul cannot finish because his line is cut off by Soviet agents.
Gareth, who speaks fluent Russian, obtains a visa for Russia and travels by train to Moscow.
He meets a New York Times reporter, Walter Duranty, who is well known for his connections in Russia, and learns that Paul has been killed.
Duranty tells him that Stalin's money comes from wheat, the gold of the Soviet Union.
When Gareth checks in at the hotel, he is told that he can stay only two nights
with an excuse that turns out to be false.
Invited to a party of journalists, Gareth learns that
journalists are confined to Moscow. One journalist tells him to read
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" if he wants to learn more
about Stalin. Gareth also meets an attractive woman, Bonnie, who is a drug addict, and other women are dancing half naked.
Duranty is almost entirely naked too and mocks the fact that Gareth is neither
drinking nor having sex.
It's the wildest party that Gareth has ever seen.
The only Westerner who doesn't seem to be excited about the party is
Ada, a fellow journalist who works for Duranty and who is constantly followed by a spy.
Gareth becomes convinced that Paul had figured out the mystery behind Stalin's money.
She is sure that Paul was murdered by the Soviet police.
She tells him that Paul was working on Ukraine, the great producer of wheat,
of the Soviet gold. Journalists are not allowed into Ukraine and Paul was
planning to travel there anyway.
Gareth looks for another hotel. He has to bribe a hotel manager in order
to get a room.
Gareth uses Ada's typewriter to fake a letter making him the current foreign adviser, not the former.
He then types "I am going to Ukraine" for Ada to see. She immediately burns
the page, afraid of spies.
He gets a Soviet official to arrange a trip for him to Ukraine.
Ada gives him Paul's notes. Gareth memorizes them and then burns them.
Ada, however, who grew up in Germany, is a committed communist, scared of Hitler, not of Stalin.
On the train to Ukraine he is accompanied by an official who reveals that
he knows everything about his life.
Gareth jumps off the frsti-class car at a station and boards a regular car
of another train. He witnesses the extreme poverty of the passengers, who arae
shocked to see that he has food and rush to pick up leftovers that he throws away.
He tries to buy an ordinary coat from one of the men but the man is indifferent to money. On the other hand he gladly trades his coat for a loaf of bread.
Disguised as one of them, and able to speak the language, Gareth gets off at Stalino (today's Donetsk) because his mother had worked there. Local workers are being forced to load food on trucks. Gareth is forced to join the workers and asks one of them where the food is being taken: Moscow.
The soldiers then realize that he is a spy and he has to run for his life,
eventually arriving at a village that looks abandoned. He only finds dead people. On a kitchen table he sees tree bark.
He begins to realize that there is no food.
He walks in a landscape covered with snow until he finds people alive.
While he is taking pictures of them, children steal all his food.
He follows a cart that is carrying dead bodies and sees them picking up
the corpse of a woman and throwing her baby (still alive) with the dead bodies.
Now he too eats bark from the trees.
As he keeps walking in the snow, he is lucky that a wolf doesn't attack him.
He is searching for the barn where her mother lived, based on a picture that
she gave him. He finds it and sleeps there.
Two children wake him up when they come looking for firewood.
He helps them load the sleigh and then pulls it to their home.
Their older sister rewards him with some real, cooked food.
She only tells him that the food comes from her brother Kolya, and doesn't
answer questions about Kolya.
Gareth walks outside and finds Kolya: he is dead in the snow.
They are eating their brother's flesh.
After throwing up, Gareth resumes his pilgrimage.
He arrives at a city where people are fighting for bread under a giant poster of Stalin. He makes the mistake of interrogating a woman, who makes the mistake of answering that millions are dying. They are immediately arrested by the secret police.
Gareth is incarcerated with six British engineers accused of spying.
A Soviet official offers him a simple deal: return to Britain, tell everybody
that there is no famine, that the Ukrainians are happy, and the engineers
will be released.
On the way out he meets Duranty and realizes that Duranty knows the truth
but has decided to lie to the Western public. Gareth almost attacks him physically.
He is put on a train and sent back to Britain.
He has lunch with the man of the first scene, Eric Blair (the real name of George Orwell), who advises him
to tell the truth even though it might cost the lives of the six engineers.
Gareth follows George Orwell's advice so and gives a lecture about the famine in Ukraine.
At the end of his lecture Orwell approaches him asking whether it the famine
might be justified in the higher interest of creating a more
egalitarian society, at which Gareth replies that the Soviet Union exploits
people as much as the capitalist West does, only worse.
Gareth's story is widely publicized, but Duranty declares to his influential
newspaper (the New York Times) that Gareth's story is a wild exaggeration.
Duranty summons Ada and dictates an article that praises Stalin and then asks
her to sign the article with her name.
In return he offers her a better job. She refuses. He threatens her: she could end up like Paul.
At the same time, Gareth in Britain is
ordered him to retract his statements in order to avoid a
diplomatic incident at a time when Britain is facing an economic crisis.
Furthermore, the world-famous Duranty debunks Gareth's story in the most influential newspaper.
Gareth, discredited, is hired by a friend to write a culture column and stay away from politics. He is mocked in the streets by children feigning to be starving.
The Soviet Union releases the six British engineers when the USA officially recognize the Soviet Union. This event is hailed a success by the business community, eager to expand trade with the Soviet Union.
Duranty is hailed as a hero for mediating and gets a standing ovation at a fancy reception.
Gareth is not only silenced but even humiliated.
One day he hears that the US magnate William Hearst is in town and rides his
bicycle to his palace. Turned away by the staff, Gareth
trespasses and breaks into the palace. He manages to convince Hearst to publish
his story, that directly conflicts with Duranty's story.
Hearst accepts and his newspapers publicize the famine all over the USA.
Ada has been fired and has returned to Germany, and writes her congratulations to Gareth. In the background we hear Hitler's voice: Germany has fallen under his dictatorial rule.
Back to the first scene, we hear George Orwell read the last sentences of "The Animal Farm", a satire of the Soviet Union which he wrote after Gareth demystified the Soviet Union (actually ten years after Gareth's death).
The film then informs us that Gareth Jones died,
the day before his 30th birthday,
during a trip to Mongolia, while
escorted by a "guide" who was actually a Soviet secret agent, officially killed by bandits.
Sarlatan/ Charlatan (2021) is another biopic.