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Polish Film Festival in America

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The 14th annual Polish Film Festival in America, produced by the Society for Arts, runs Saturday, November 2, through Saturday, November 30. Screenings this week are at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence, and unless otherwise noted, tickets are $9. Passes, available for $40 (five screenings) and $80 (twelve screenings), are good for all programs except the 7:30 screening on Saturday, November 2, and the 3:00 screening on Sunday, November 10; for more information call 773-486-9612. Programs marked with an * are highly recommended. The full festival schedule for November 2 through 7 follows; a complete schedule through November 30 is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2

Julia Walking Home

Director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa, Washington Square) has a fairly solid reputation, but you'd never know it from this awkwardly executed, poorly paced, strangely unaffecting story about a boy dying of cancer, his agnostic mother, and a faith healer. The script, which Holland wrote with Arlene Sarner and Roman Gren, tends toward exchanges that announce the underlying tensions; when the mother bluntly says, "I don't need some priest to tell me what to believe," you know she's in for a miraculous conversion. The actors do what they can with the material--Lothaire Bluteau as the faith healer manages a nice mix of inner pain and outward calm--but Holland keeps shoving them from one big, overwrought emotional crescendo to the next. At times the film even seems to be bullying us with the dying child: "Feel something, or the kid gets it!" 118 min. (Hank Sartin) Also on the program: Tomasz Baginski's seven-minute short The Cathedral, in Polish with subtitles. Tickets are $20. (7:30)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3

Short films for children

Two films: Pawel Partyka's puppet animation The Fantastic Flower Shop (2001, 14 min.) and a 30-minute anthology of films from the Krakow animation studio Luka Film. In Polish with subtitles. (11:00 am)

My Heart Is Calling You

The festival's tribute to Jan Kiepura, a tenor with the Warsaw State Opera who enjoyed some success in European movie musicals, opens with this 1934 French feature about an opera star (Kiepura) who discovers a beautiful stowaway (Martha Eggerth, who later married Kiepura) in his cabin on the way to Monte Carlo. Directed by Carmine Gallone and Serge Veber; an uncredited Emeric Pressburger contributed to the script of this English-language version. 83 min. (1:00)

* The Supplement

The latest offering from veteran Polish writer-director Krzysztof Zanussi (Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease) is a simple story about a young man's spiritual crisis. A devoutly religious medical student (Pawel Okraska), unsure what to do with his life, announces that he may enter a monastery for a year, and his relationship with his girlfriend (Monika Krzywkowska) begins to unravel. Initially Zanussi focuses on the student's epistemology, as he earnestly awaits a sign from God, but gradually the story deepens into a parable about the nature of love: though the hero spends most of the story pursuing grace, one of the closing images affirms Zanussi's belief that the closest we may get to heaven is right here on earth. In Polish with subtitles. 101 min. (Joshua Katzman) (3:00)

Unfaithful

Since I regard Claude Chabrol's quintessentially French La femme infidele (1968) as one of his greatest films--making it all the more unfortunate for us (and fortunate for the authors of this remake) that it's been unavailable for years--I was fully prepared to detest the Adrian Lyne version. Yet for roughly the first half of this 124-minute feature, I was pleasantly surprised, especially by the decisive shift in emphasis from husband to wife. Diane Lane, as the unfaithful wife of Richard Gere, gets to show off her magnificent legs at every opportunity--especially but not exclusively on her trips from her suburban home to the Soho loft of a young French hunk (Olivier Martinez) who sells rare books--and Lyne's fancy cutting, honed on and still often resembling TV commercials, keeps this sensual in a way that the Chabrol movie never was. But then violence, guilt, and the husband's viewpoint take over, Lane's legs are sheathed, and the movie doesn't have a clue about how to proceed. The original was a classically balanced and ultimately very satisfying work held in place by Chabrol's love-hatred for bourgeois domesticity; the remake doesn't reflect anyone's love or hatred for anything, just a lot of anxiety about test marketing, which means it takes a nosedive when it goes shopping for an ending (I counted several, all of them ham-fisted). Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. adapted Chabrol's script. (JR) Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, who scored the film, will attend the screening. (5:15)

Eden

Artist and illustrator Andrzej Czeczot, a native of Krakow who has lived in New York since the early 80s, spent six years working on this animated fantasy about a shepherd who journeys through space and time, encountering everyone from Neptune, Hercules, and Prometheus to Napoleon, Columbus, Isadora Duncan, Charlie Parker, Salvador Dali, and the Beatles. In Polish with subtitles. 85 min. (8:00)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4

Tuesday

Witold Adamek follows up his 1998 feature Monday with this comic drama about two losers who borrow money from a local mob boss to open a strip club and soon find themselves targeted by rival gangsters and marked for death by a puritanical church committee. The plot may sound like cable-TV sexploitation, but like Robert Altman in the 70s, Adamek concentrates on quirky portraiture as the two men gather their friends and family around them for the enterprise, an intimacy enhanced by his loose documentary-style cinematography. While not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, the film offers some biting commentary on Poland's rocky experiment with capitalism: the partners quickly discover there are as many women willing to strip for cash as there are men willing to watch. In Polish with subtitles. 91 min. (Jack Helbig) (7:00)

Ballad About Zakaczawie

Waldemar Krzystek directed this 2001 feature, showing with Maciej Majewksi's animated short Beware of Bad Dogs! (2001). Both films in Polish with subtitles. 91 min. (9:00)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5

E = MC2

A struggling academic (Olaf Lubaszenko) decides to make some money on the side by writing people's thesis papers and finds himself falling for one of his clients, the girlfriend of a powerful gangster. Lubaszenko directed this 2001 feature from a screenplay by Robert Maka. With Cezary Pazura and Agnieszka Wlodarczyk. In Polish with subtitles. 118 min. (7:00)

Chameleon

Part noir, part family drama, this 2001 feature by Janusz Kijowski takes on more than it can adequately address, but it's a complex and audacious story. Piotr Machalica is excellent as Leon, a world-weary police inspector in the semi-industrial Mazury region north of Warsaw; driving on a rain-slicked road one foggy night, he accidentally kills a stoned young woman and elects to cover up his crime. Shooting almost exclusively at night or in foggy daylight, cinematographer Zdzislaw Najda creates a grainy, somber milieu for the story. Some of the hero's conflicts (with a drug-addicted daughter, the dead girl's mother, and the cops and politicians implicated in a local drug cartel) are never fully resolved, but Kijowski seems to prefer an untidy universe. In Polish with subtitles. 113 min. (Joshua Katzman) (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6

* Silence

Michal Rosa's creepy 2001 feature focuses on a railroad engineer who's been obsessed with a young woman for 20 years, since the day he inadvertently caused the death of her parents. Now grown, she sells cosmetics by day and parties by night, but her life is empty, and like the engineer she craves redemption. Krzysztof Piesiewicz's screenplay entwines the characters' stories to consider memory, mourning, and mortality, their existential crises made all the more somber by Arkadiusz Tomiak's shadowy cinematography. This descent into darkness isn't for the fainthearted, yet as Rosa makes clear without evoking any specific religion, spiritual rewards await those who make the trip. In Polish with subtitles. 93 min. (Jack Helbig) (7:00)

Squint Your Eyes

After running away from home, a ten-year-old girl (Malgorzata Foremniak) seeks refuge with her former tutor, the caretaker of a run-down farm (Zbigniew Zamachowski), and though her wealthy parents try various methods to bring her home, she insists on staying put. Central to the film's charm is the complex relationship between the girl and her tutor: he manages to teach her some values contrary to her parents' materialism, but she's more than willing to point out his eccentricities as well. Writer-director Andrzej Jakimowski populates the farm with several other colorful characters, including the tutor's poetry-spouting sidekick; because of the director's restraint and subtlety, the assorted relationships take a while to coalesce, yet this wry and laconic story, reminiscent of early Milos Forman, resonates long after the final scene. 88 min. (Joshua Katzman) (9:00)

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7

Paradox Lake

Przemyslaw Reut, a native of Warsaw who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, directed this disastrous 2001 indie feature about a selfish twentysomething living with his mother who learns to reach out to others while working at a summer camp for autistic children. Reut uses professional actors to play the main characters and fills out his ensemble with staffers and children from a real summer camp; long stretches of the film consist of one shot after another of the children, many of whom are so severely disabled it's hard to believe they know they're part of a film project. The screenplay is credited to Reut and Wieslaw Saniewski, but the storytelling is so minimal, the camerawork so amateurish, and the editing so slapdash that often I couldn't tell what was going on. 84 min. (Jack Helbig) (7:00)

Faithful

Marzena Grzegorczyk's clever short (2001, 15 min.) about marital infidelity opens with a politician's wife (Aleksandra Konieczna) receiving a letter from a woman who claims to be having an affair with her husband. Devastated, the betrayed wife allows her sister (Magdalena Cielecka) to impersonate her for a rendezvous with the mistress, and most of the ensuing drama, shot primarily in crisp close-ups, unfolds from the sister's perspective. Grzegorczyk's surprise ending reinforces rather than recasts the preceding events, revealing the wife as too wounded to grasp the true source of her betrayal and the sister as too angry over her sibling's denial to be of any real help. The short will be followed by Andrzej Baranski's feature All Saints (75 min.), about a woman visiting the grave of her recently deceased husband who goes off in search of the place where her first love is buried. Both films are in Polish with subtitles. (Joshua Katzman) (9:00)

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