Agnieszka Holland


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6.0 Provincial Actors (1978)
6.8 Fever (1980)
7.4 A Woman Alone (1981)
6.8 Angry Harvest (1985)
7.0 Europa Europa (1991)
7.0 Olivier Olivier (1992)
The Secret Garden (1993), 6/10
Total Eclipse (1995), 5/10
Washington Square (1997), 6/10
7.0 The Third Miracle (1999)
Shot in the Heart (2001), 6/10
Julie Walking Home (2002), 5.5/10
Copying Beethoven (2006), 5/10
7.0 In Darkness (2011)
7.1 Burning Bush (2013)
7.0 Spoor (2017)
7.1 Mr Jones (2019)
7.2 The Green Border (2023)
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Blacklisted from the legendary Polish film school of Lodz due to her father’s arrest in 1961, Agnieszka Holland (Poland, 1948) graduated in 1971 from the no less legendary film school FAMU in Czechoslovakia, where her tutor was Milos Forman, 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.

Goraczka/ Fever (1980), based on Andrzej Strug’s novel " Dzieje Jednego Pocisku/ History of One Bullet" (1910), is about the failed revolution of 1905, at a time when the Polish people were partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria. The story is about Polish anarchists fighting the Russian oppressors at the time of the czars, but it meant more at the time of its release. The film came out when Poland's communist regime was weakening. By the time the film was shown in 1981, the anti-communist strikes (similar to the anti-czarist strike depicted in the film) had already led to the rise of the Solidarnosc movement. It is a symbolic tale, an allegory, in which the revolution loses to the oppressor thanks both to its shortcomings but also to the many traitors who gladly work for the oppressor out of greed. The top revolutionary is not particularly pleasant: he is cruel and manipulative. The film has several main characters but not quite a protagonist. Holland is more interested in the complex collective psychology (that contains idealists, realists, bandits, ordinary families, disillusioned workers, heroes, cowards and traitors) than in individual psychology. Notably absent are the oppressors themselves, the Russians, who are treated like a force of nature but not analyzed like people.

The film opens with a man building a bomb. Rebels ambush a carriage carrying a prisoner and free him but four of the rebels are killed. An attractive woman, Kama, picks up the bomb at the bombmaker's house seconds before the police surrounds the house and arrests him. A poorly dressed young man, Marek, visits a rich mansion. A child named Piotr has heard that he wants to kill the czar and offers his small financial contribution. Then Marek's father walks in. He's a rich and powerful man. Marek, who just escaped from prison (the one freed in the previous scene), wants money to support the terrorists. His father thinks the terrorists are idiots. Marek's father invites Marek to stay for his sister's wedding, but Marek is disgusted that she's marrying a Pole who has become a Russian officer. Marek's father relents and gives him money. Marek leaves from the back door just when the governor in person enters the house to join the festivities. Marek visits Kama who calls him Leon and they have sex. The following day the attractive woman, Kama, delivers the bomb to Marek and others in that apartment. Marek is their leader and takes custody of the bomb. A man is recognized as a police informer and almost lynched by the group. He tries in vain to convince Marek that he was simply a member of a gang of bandits who steal from the rich and now he wants to join the revolutionaries. Wojtek, the man in charge of killing him, fails miserably and Marek in person has to finish the traitor. We then see Marek in a train station preparing another terrorist attack, and then the governor, distraught, discussing the killing of a Russian official and the hanging of a terrorist.
We then see workers on strike and Wojtek among them. The bomb is delivered to a gentleman that Kama visits (he calls her "countess"). He then gives it to Kama. Marek is discussing the plan with Kamil, a fellow revolutionary who is in love with Kama. Marek shows that he doesn't care if Kama gets killed. He is focused only on the success of the mission. Kama enters the government building, carrying a box that contains the bomb, with Marek pretending to be her servant. Marek instructs her to get as close as possible to the governor, but the governor never comes out. The plan fails. Marek tells Kama that she's not up to the task. She is too eager to die and he doesn't trust her anymore. Kama lets Kamil sleep with her but she looks desperate.
Marek delivers the bomb to Wojtek, who lives in a farm, and then visits Kamil, who is no longer interested in the revolution and resents the selfish way Marek treated Kama. Marek then visits the mental hospital where Kama is hospitalized. She had gone completely mad, and has a violent reaction when she sees Marek. Kamil arrives to kick Marek out and to lull Kama. When he leaves the hospital, Marek is arrested: presumably Kamil called the police.
Wojtek the peasant travels to the capital and visits his uncle, who tells him that there are spies and renegades everywhere. Wojtek wants to rejoin the revolutionaries but none of the trusted contacts can help him. There is general disillusion. Wojtek tries to contact the socialist leaders of the strike, shouting that he is bringing money and a bomb for the party, but the workers of the factory are not interested in strikes and terrorism anymore, they tell him that the party has split, and in fact don't trust him and almost kill him as a spy. Wojtek has to run for his life. Wojtek the naive peasant walks into a pub and shows the money to pay for a drink. An informer disguised as a socialist approaches him. They take his money and deliver him to the police. He is jailed and sentenced to death. His cellmate is a bandit, Gryziak (whom Marek saw being arrested), who is about to be released. He used to be a socialist but now mocks the socialists and has become an anarchist. Wojtek entrusts him with a letter for his uncle. Gryziak visits his former partner in crime, who has become a double agent working for the Russian secret police and has become rich. This man owes him money. He tries to recruit Gryziak for the secret police and boasts of the money that he makes betraying socialists. Gryziak kills him with no warning. Meanwhile, Wojtek's uncle has found the box that Wojtek left behind. Gryziak delivers Wojtek's letter and takes the bomb. Wojtek is hanged and his body is unceremoniously dumped in a grave dug nearby. His uncle reads his last letter aloud, the letter of a good-hearted but naive peasant. Gryziak grabs the informer who framed Wojtek and forces him to take him to the headquarters of the secret police. Finally, he throws the bomb (that so far nobody has thrown). But the bomb fails to explode. Gryziak gets beaten by dozens of people but keeps laughing. The defective bomb is delivered to a Russian bomb expert who detonates it safely in a river. The Russians win over the naive and amateurish Polish revolutionaries.

She then crafted the harrowing moral tale of Kobieta Samotna/ A Woman Alone (1981), with a soundtrack by Jan Kanty Pawluskiewicz. The film is a lot more than a political movie. It superficially attacks the absurdity of life under communism, but it is also a study of loneliness and a study of the fragility of social ties. It depicts a world in which nobody is truly evil: they are all forced to compete with each other by a system that deprives them of both material and moral means of survival, and so they all end up becoming selfish and cruel. The protagonist is a woman humiliated, insulted and persecuted by everybody. Her only way to salvation is to commit the biggest sin: to abandon her son. But the goal is to give her son a better life. In reality, the system has deprived her not only of a social network but also of knowledge about the world, and she is doomed to fail in a pathetic and almost grotesque manner. The film was banned (for six years) and Holland left Poland.

Middle-aged Irena/ Irka lives alone with her little boy Bogus in a humble apartment outside the city. She takes the tain to go to work in the city. Her job is to delivers the mail, walking a lot of streets and climbing a lot of stairs. One day she faints while delivering the invalidity pension to a crippled young man, Jacek. On the way home she meets a group of railway workers or chaingang. Back home she finds that the envious neighbor Marolewski has cut their electricity. The following day she is moved to tears when her boy goes through the Catholic ritual of first communion. She invites a few friends to her home and they discuss their dire living conditions. The evil neighbor is angry because he was meant to get her apartment but instead the party assigned it to her. One of the friends suggests that she joins Solidarnosc, but she is afraid that the party will punish her and take away the apartment and then her child will be at the orphanage again. Irena also cares for her sick aunt, who shares an apartment with another family. As they chat we learn that the pharmacy doesn't have medicines, that chocolate is rationed, that there is no sugar, etc. When she walks outside, we see that Jacek is standing in a long line to get food. He leaves the line to follow her. There's another long line in front of another store. Jacek is crippled and shy but offers to carry her heavy bag and even to buy goods for her thanks to his handicapped card that allows him to skip the lines. At night, Marolewski becomes violent. Scared, Irena walks into the communist party building to file a complaint but she is brutally thrown out. Jacek becomes a close friend. He spends time with Irena's child. Jacek explains that he worked three years in a coal mine until the accident. After Bogus leaves, they chat. Jacek tells her that he dreams of moving abroad. His mother died when he was a child, his father was taken into an asylum. She tells him that Bogus's father wasn't her husband. She left him before Bogus was born because he was beating her. She admits that she was happy when her drunkard husband killed himself in a car accident. They make love in her squalid bedroom. Jacek is so happy he starts crying. Irena visits her aunt again. The old woman knows that she's dying of cancer. She's been alone all her life. But we see that the old woman is stingy: Irena has to pay for her food. Irena assumes that the aunt must have saved money. At least there will be that inheritance. When Irena returns to town, Jacek is waiting for her with a bunch of flowers. Jacek gets on his knees and proposes to her, but Irena hesitates because he's too young. Irena is summoned to school to a meeting of parents. They complain that Bogus has destroyed the holiday decorations that other pupils prepared. They want Irena to pay for the costs. Irena shouts that they pick on Bogus and on her because they don't have a man to defend them, but the teacher reminds her that it's not the first time that Bogus wreaks havoc. Back home Irena is telling Jacek what happened and that she has to pay the damages but she has no money when suddenly Bogus' deadbeat father shows up, pretending he wants to see his son. He becomes violent when Irena refuses to let him near the child. Jacek talks to him calmly and convinces him to leave them in peace. As the man leaves, we realize he too is just a desperate and lonely being. Jacek pulls out a letter from his pocket and tells Irena that his buddies abroad have found a job for him. Irena feels betrayed again but soon Jacek tells her that he loves her, implying that he won't leave her. But Jacek is being discriminated all the time for his invalidity: people laugh at him openly. They have another crisis when she decides to buy a TV set, spending all her savings, this way Bogus won't have to go out to watch TV. Jacek is hurt that now Bogus will be in the house all the time, depriving them of their privacy (i.e. sex). Jacek's visits end. Finally, the aunt dies. Irena was expecting a little inheritance instead, when she arrives, the priest tells her that the old woman left money to pay for her own funeral but the money is not enough: Irena has to pay some more. The priest promises to take very good care of the soul of the dead one but wants money from the living one. Irena, who had promised to buy a bicycle for Bogus with the inheritance, leaves in tears and skips the funeral. At work Irena makes the mistake of telling her boss that she is a little overworked. Her boss decides to swap her neighborhood with an easier one but it turns out that everybody wants her neighborhood because she delivers a lot of postal orders (for which the mailman gets a tip). Desperate, Irena decides to steal the pensions that she is supposed to deliver. She tells Bogus to pack because they are leaving the house. Irena and Bogus walk in the streets where a huge Solidarnosc demonstration is taking place. Irena now has money to place Bogus in a boarding house. She visits Jacek, who has been avoiding him and is angry to see her. But when she shows him the money, he assumes that it is the inheritance and becomes friendly again. Jacek helps Irena buy a car, and they prepare to emigrate to Germany. Jacek is so excited he gets drunk at a farewell dinner with his lodgers. Jacek and Irena are so naive that they don't even know they need a visa to enter a foreign country. The following day they drive towards the border at high speed but one little distraction costs them a car accident that destroys the car. They are lucky to survive with only minor injuries. They are so clueless about everything. They take a room in a hotel and she finally confesses that she stole the money. She wants to surrender to the police. They make love and go to sleep. In the morning Jacek smothers her with a pillow until she dies. Jacek then walks to the US embassy after wrapping his head in tape to keep it from falling apart (what he tells at the reception). He pretends to have a bomb in the suitcase and demands an airplane to leave the country. He easily gets arrested. We then see Irena flying with wings like an angel over Bogus' orphanage. Bogus' voice tells us that she dropped him a letter promising to come and rescue him to live forever in a nice home. He is speaking to us from behing a fence.

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, who 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, and 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 blood.
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 case.
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 cumbersome anyway.
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, Frank'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 gunfire: 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 can. 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 Szczepek. One day a man discovers the Jews hiding in the sewers and runs in the streets shouting. Poldek leads the Jews to another hideout, smaller but even more difficult to find. 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 her dead. 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), photographed in dark vivid colors by Jolanta Dylewska and Rafal Paradowski (a mixed blessing), is a two-hour adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk's "Prowadz Swoj Plug Przez Kosci Umarlych/ Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead" (2009). It's a murder mystery in the style of Twin Peaks, but also a twisted moral tale in which the murderer is both an idealist and a sociopath, and her victims are more dangerous than her to society.

At dawn, in a remote mountain region, an elderly woman, Janina, takes her two dogs for a walk. Later she is driving down a forest road when she runs into a couple that has been stranded. She gives them a ride to town. The man, Jarek, gets off and we see that his farm has many cages full of foxes. The young woman, Dobra Nowina, works for him and asks Janina for a ride to the store. We hear gunshots. When Janina comes back home, her dogs have disappeared. Janina organizes a posse with children to search for them in the middle of the night. The following morning we see her in school, speaking in English to the children, and a teacher scolds her for taking the children to the forest in the middle of the night. Janina just started working for the school, thanks to her knowledge of English. She posts flyers all over town with pictures of her dogs. She suspects the poacher, Big Foot. Fast forward two months to winter and the dogs are still missing. Janina is visited by a priest and tells him that so many of her animals have been killed by hunters, but those dogs were her best friends. The priest tells her to pray for herself, not for the dogs. One night her neighbor Magota wakes her up because Big Foot has been murdered in his home. Magota insists that they lift the body to the bed and wash him, although this way they tamper with the evidence. They find a bone stuck in his mouth. The police chief interrogates Janina, who loathed the poacher. Janina describes how cruel Big Foot was to animals and to the environment in general. She even scolds the police chief for never arresting him. She is about to storm out of his office but then asks him for his birthdate, because she believes in horoscopes. We then see the police chief receiving a visit from Jarek, who behaves like a thug (he puts his shoes on the chief's desk) and demands his money. Janina sees Jarek threatening the chief on the way out. Clearly, the police chief have more important problems than Janina's dogs or even the murder. Janina visits the sweet Dobra Nowina at the store where she works. While they are chatting, a young spectacled man falls to the ground and has a seizure outside the store. They help him get back on his feet. Then we see Dobra Nowina in the arms of her boss Jarek who seems to propose to her (we don't hear what they say). It's Christmas time. Dobra Nowina tries to speak with her brother Jasiek but it sounds like he is in trouble. One morning Janina wakes up at the sound of gunshots. We see wild boars running through the forest. Janina finds the hunters and tries to stop them from killing animals but Jarek turns her away and the other hunters laugh at her. The young spectacled man, Dyzio, visits Janina and tells her that he has just been hired by the police as a computer specialist. Janina opens up to him: she used to build bridges in Syria and Libya, and that's how she learned English. They share a passion for poet William Blake. In the middle of the night they notice a car stuck in the forest. We see Magota staring in the night. They check it out and find the police chief dead, his face disfigured from blows to the head. Janina sees deer tracks in the snow and takes pictures. Meanwhile, we see Jarek in a classy brothel. The mailman who delivers him a police summon knows everything and tells Janina: Jarek got rich with the casino-brothel, using girls from poor countries, and Dobra Nowina is one of his prostitutes. He also knows that the police chief, who used to be his friend, is a customer of Jarek's casino-brothel. The police find animal blood on the chief's head. Dobra Nowina tells Janina that her brother is in an orphanage, her father is a violent drunk, and she's applied to get custody of her brother, but her request has been rejected because someone told the orphanage of her dubious lifestyle. Dyzio, who has access to the computers, tells Dobra Nowina that it was Jarek who reported her. Janina is summoned to the prosecutor who is investigating the chief's murder and tells him of her theory based on astrology: from the chief's birthdate she derived that he would die by a blow in the head caused by an animal. And she mentions the deer tracks. The prosecutor is Magota's son. He listens but of course ignores her theory. Dyzio invites Dobra Nowina and Janina to his empty apartment (he is a minimalist who doesn't like furniture) and shows them that he is building a surveillance system. Janina notices two hunters in his live videos and runs out without saying a word. She drives to the forest and finds a wild boar shot throught the lungs (a painful death). She cries on the dead animal. It is illegal to hunt in that season. She rushes to the police station in tears but the cops. The cops laugh at her. She saves fur and bones of dead animals hoping that some day it will be possible to clone them and bring them back to life. Jarek disappears and all his foxes are stolen. Fast forward to June, which is hunting season, and Dyzio proudly shows Janina his translation of William Blake. While hiking in the forest, Janina runs into a foreigner, Boros, who found a decomposed corpse: it is Jarek's, who appears to have been trampled to death by wild boars. Boros is a Czech scientist who studies the insects of the forest and is incensed by the millions of larvae killed by logging. This brings tears to animal lover Janina. They become best friends. Matoga comes to bring a gift to Janina but finds her with Boros and leaves disappointed. In the evening Matoga and Janina smoke marijuana together around a bonfire, and he tells her of the tragic story of her childhood: her mother hanged herself and he's the one who found her. Matoga invites Janina to a costume party. Matoga also mentions that he was in prison. They make love. The following day Janina is in the forest with Boros, studying insects. While they are taking a lunch break, Dyzio arrives frantically announcing that the police arrested Dobra Nowina for the murder of Jarek after they found she sent him threatening messages. Dyzio is devastated: clearly he was secretly in love with the girl. Janina tries in vain to convince the prosecutor that animals killed both the chief and Jarek, who were both cruel hunters: animals took revenge. Again, he ignores her as a crazy old woman. Janina tries to prove to him that astrology works: she read in the horoscope that his father Matoga was in prison. The prosecutor tells her why he was in prison, that it was not a war heroism: the man tried to bomb a clinic because he held them responsible for his wife's death. He was jailed for terrorism. Boros has to leave and Janina sleeps with him too. It is now summer, hunting season for deer. Magota and Janina attend a costumed ball. During the party they see the drunken mayor beat up his wife. Janina approaches the poor woman, who recognizes her as her daughter's teacher. The woman is traumatized by the husband's hunting. The next day the cops summon Janina to the station: the mayor has been murdered, and his body was covered with beetles. She tells them their theory about astrology and they kick her out. The murder of the mayor exonerates Dobra Nowina, who was in prison and cannot be the serial killer. When she is released, Dyzio is there waiting for her: they kiss. Janina loudly complains when a priest in church pays tribute to the hunters, calling them "God's ambassadors". She screams at him and is thrown out of the church. Now we see a flashback: how Janina killed the police chief and made animal tracks around the body. Another flashback shows how she killed Jarek and released his foxes. Meanwhile, Dyzio tells Nowina that the mayor was killed by beetles, and that Janina has learned from the scientist how to attract beetles. They realize that Janina is the serial killer. Just then the church catches fire and the priest dies. Dyzio and Dobra Nowina drive to Janina's place and find her with Magota. Janina shows them a photo in which a group of hunters celebrate their hunting party in front of the spoils, which includes Janina's dogs. Another flashback shows how she killed the mayor after he admitted to killing her dogs. Magota, Dyzio and Nowina decide to help Janina sneak out of the country before the police can arrest her. Dyzio uses the computer to turn off the electricity in the whole town. Magota builds a rudimentary bomb that he throws into the road when the cops start chasing them. The film ends with Janina, Magota, Boros, Dyzio, Nowina and Nowina's brother celebrating together, presumably in another country: they have formed a new family. And Janina has two new dogs.

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 a typewriter. 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 exaggerations. 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 ending titles inform 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.

Zielona Granica/ The Green Border (2023) is about Arab and African refugees trying to enter the European Union.

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