The 18th Polish Film Festival in America runs Saturday, November 4, through Sunday, November 19, at the Beverly Arts Center, the Copernicus Center, the Portage, and the Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee. Tickets are $8.50-$10; a festival pass, good for five screenings, is $45. Following are selected features screening Saturday through Thursday, November 4 through 9; for a full festival schedule visit www.pffamerica.com. Unless otherwise noted, all films are in Polish with subtitles. For more information call 773-486-9612.
The Collector For decades Feliks Falk has supplied Polish cinema with undiluted doses of cynicism. Here he zeroes in on a repo man named Lucek whose genius for uncovering hidden assets is matched only by his ruthless disregard for his prey. The camera, galvanized from first frame to last by the extraordinary performance of Andrzej Chrya as the zealous collector, restlessly roams a colorless Poland ravaged by economic insecurity. The incorruptible Lucek, an unholy amalgam of bureaucratic piety and capitalistic drive, poses a threat to both his impoverished victims and his corrupt bosses. Unfortunately Falk, uncharacteristically directing from someone else's script, loses his mordant edge as the hero magically becomes humane--a suitably ironic turnaround but one that feels schematic and lacks iconic verve. 93 min. (Ronnie Scheib) a Wed 11/8, 7 PM, Society for Arts
Hyena Set in the wasteland of a dying industrial town, Grzegorz Lewandowski's moody if somewhat convoluted thriller centers on a small boy trying to cope with the loss of his father in a mining accident. The boy's lively imagination, stoked by his schoolmates, convinces him that a werewolflike creature haunts the surrounding woods, and his fears are inflamed by an encounter with a mysterious disfigured man and a string of unsolved murders. Draining the film of color except for the occasional splash of crimson, Lewandowski generates a genuinely creepy atmosphere. His clear debt to Great Expectations and Victor Erice's 1973 The Spirit of the Beehive might have been forgivable had his stab at political allegory proved more successful. 87 min. (Reece Pendleton) a Sun 11/5, 3 PM, Portage
RJasminum Hired to restore the art collection of a centuries-old religious order, a chain-smoking painter and amateur aromachologist (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska) arrives at a rural monastery with her precocious five-year-old daughter, who begins to follow the caretaker around like a gosling. Their presence provokes the holy men--one to confront his spiritual commitment, another to reconnect with his love of movies. Director Jan Jakub Kolski blends magical realism with elements of the mystery genre as the monks encounter the jasmine-scented ghost of a medieval woman. His Felliniesque eccentrics include a lovelorn beautician, a visiting film star, a levitating monk, and a grizzled saint, but the heart of the movie is soulful Janusz Gajos as the put-upon caretaker. In this gorgeous fable the spiritual and the erotic balance like notes in a fine perfume. 107 min. (AG) a Sat 11/4, 7:30 PM, Copernicus Center
Ode to Joy There's precious little joy for any of the characters in this 2005 trio of shorts, which are set against the shifting economic landscape of contemporary Poland. In the strongest entry, Anna Kazejak-Dawid's gritty "Silesia," a young woman returns from working in England to find her miner father on strike and her beautician mother unemployed and approaching a nervous breakdown. Jan Komasa's "Warsaw," about a rapper angered by the cruelty of his girlfriend's wealthy father, ends so abruptly it feels unfinished. And in Maciej Migas's "Pomerania" a fisherman on the Baltic coast tries to weather girl trouble, a skinflint boss, a shrewish mom, and a dad slipping into dementia. 113 min. (AG) a Thu 11/9, 7 PM, Society for Arts
RPersona Non Grata Veteran character actor Zbigniew Zapasiewicz gives a brilliant performance in this study of an elderly Polish dissident turned diplomat whose career and personal life are unraveling. He's devastated by the death of his wife, haunted by suspicions of her infidelity, resentful that Poland is just as corrupt and inefficient as in the Soviet era, and increasingly fearful that his staff and colleagues (many of them holdovers from the old regime) are scheming against him. Rumors that he's a mentally unstable drunk gain credence as his behavior becomes more erratic--yet his inability to function in an absurdly dysfunctional society marks him as saner than the devious incompetents surrounding him. By turns somber and ironically detached, this 2005 drama by writer-director Krzysztof Zanussi moves slowly but accumulates great power. 117 min. (Albert Williams) a Sat 11/4, 8 PM, Portage; Sun 11/5, 7:30 PM, Copernicus Center
Who Never Lived . . . Michall Zebrowski stars as a hip young priest who runs afoul of his superiors by ministering to teenage junkies and gets reassigned to Rome. Before departing he learns he's HIV positive, and the ensuing crisis of faith sends him on an odyssey of self-discovery, from self-imposed exile in a rural monastery to a fateful encounter on a country road. Freighted with heavy-duty biblical allusions (and some embarrassingly cheery musical interludes), this religious drama by Andrzej Seweryn seems ready-made for church discussion groups, though it's saved from terminal earnestness by nuanced performances from the ensemble cast. 98 min. (Reece Pendleton) a Sun 11/5, 3 PM, Copernicus Center