A Big Animal

Jerzy Stuhr directed and stars in this Polish feature, playing a colorless bank clerk who becomes a local celebrity after adopting a camel from a circus. At first glance the film seems like a daffy children's story: the camel couldn't look more comical loping through the village square, and the clerk and his dowdy wife clearly love the camel and do all they can to make it comfortable. (The wife even knits a special blanket for it, with two holes for the humps.) But as the villagers' fascination turns to jealousy and resentment, the clerk is forced out of the town orchestra, runs afoul of numerous zoning and tax ordinances (the local officials can't find a camel listed on the tax schedules for livestock), and finds he's no longer comfortable leading his camel around town. By midpoint the film has turned as dark as a Gogol story (or Milos Foreman's The Fireman's Ball). Unfortunately the screenplay, adapted by Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue) from a short story by Kazimierz Ortos, progresses in fits and starts, omitting important scenes from the story. Stuhr's direction seems uncertain in the latter half, and Pawel Edelman's beautiful but stark black-and-white cinematography makes even the sunniest scenes seem brooding. 73 min.

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