Johnny the Aquarius | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Johnny the Aquarius

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The young Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski is a surreal fabulist and religious skeptic in the vein of Luis Bunuel. The protagonist in his 1993 Johnnie the Aquarius (better translated as "Johnnie the Water Bearer") is a wizened old man who suddenly discovers he can cure ills by splashing his patients with water. He leaves his pregnant young wife to wander from village to village in search of fame and fortune, and when he returns, a proud, worldly sage, he finds a newborn son with a devil's tail and his healing gift disappears. The film's parable plot and ironic mockery of human foibles both recall Bunuel's Nazarin and Simon of the Desert, which also include colorful, vain figures embarking on quixotic quests. But Kolski is not nearly as sardonic as Bunuel, nor is he as polished and enigmatic a storyteller. Johnnie gently pokes fun at the susceptibility of Polish peasants to illusions and disillusionment, but where Bunuel rebelled against history and political institutions, Kolski proffers the message of accepting one's fate. Veteran actor Franciszek Pieczka gives a marvelously nuanced performance as the mercurial and stubborn Johnnie; Zygmunt Konieczny wrote the vivid folk-song-studded score. Rubloff Auditorium, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Adams, Saturday, September 17, 7:30, 443-3737; also Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence, Sunday, September 18, 3:45, and Wednesday, September 21, 6:45, 486-9612. The Rubloff screening, a benefit for the Film Center and the Society for Polish Arts (tickets are $12, $10 for Film Center members), will be preceded by a performance by jazz pianist Adam Makowicz and 89 MM From Europe, a short documentary about the incompatibility of the rail gauges and cultures of eastern and western Europe; it will be followed by a discussion led by Pieczka.

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