A YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN (Rok Spokojnego Slonca) (director/writer: Krzysztof Zanussi; cinematographer: Slawomir Idziak; editor: Marek Denys; music: Wojciech Kilar; cast: Scott Wilson (Norman), Maja Komorowska (Emilia), Hanna Skarzanka (Mother), Ewa Dalkowska (Stella), Jerzy Stuhr (Adzio), Vadim Glowna (Herman), Daniel Webb ( David); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG; Kino Video; 1984-Poland/Germany)
“The Quiet Sun is a deeply human work with keen observations about the human condition and spirit.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An emotionally torn American soldier, with the rank of private, Norman (Scott Wilson-“In Cold Blood“), who is older than most of the other soldiers, arrives in war-torn West Poland (before the war it was part of Germany) in 1946 at the end of WW11 to be a driver for a commission investigating ‘war crimes.’ Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi has created a tender and sincerely acted love story. This German-Polish production won the Golden Lion prize in Venice.
A heavily symbolic film such as this one that moves its plot points at a deliberate speed in a predictable way, usually leaves me with a cold feeling. But I was drawn to the desperate mood it set. The film genuinely held out the hope for love to conquer all despite the littered landscape filled with goons and bitter memories and pessimists and assorted hustlers. Even though I could too easily see how this possible love affair is being used as a metaphor. Nevertheless, Zanussi‘s haunting direction pilots the story through all the snares that would usually take down a film so schematized.
While driving around in his jeep the soldier runs into a younger woman looking to paint something beautiful in the countryside. Emilia (Maja Komorowska) is a war widow and is equally damaged by the past and all the destruction she is currently faced with. Maja Komorowska is a regular in Zanussi’s films, and is a commanding actress who exudes a sense of warmth and sensitivity which creases her face with a natural inner beauty rather than having her possess the good looks associated with a Hollywood starlet. Zanussi is a former physicist and speaker of seven languages, and like Maja was heavily involved with the pro-Solidarity Movement. The director and star actress protested the oppressive Communist rule they were under, in a country that still hadn’t recovered from the war and where rationing and martial law was in place while filming.
Norman visits Emilia and her tough-talking but soft-hearted ailing elderly mother (Hanna Skarzanka), whom she is tenderly nursing despite her mother’s wishes to die, in their wrecked building they now dwell in since their house was destroyed during the war. Though impoverished Emilia does not sell her body to get food as does her next door neighbor Stella, who survived living in a concentration camp by working in a brothel visited regularly by the S. S.. She now entertains for a cash payment a German civilian who is waiting only to be repatriated back to the homeland. Emilia knows all this yet still says over her mom’s contempt for the woman, we cannot judge her. Norman brings with him paint and sweet pork, and expresses as best he can without speaking the language that he sincerely loves her and wants to see her again. The mother encourages her daughter to accept the gifts and encourages the relationship, as a friendship grows between the non-verbal strangers based on their unspoken understanding. To show how pure Norman’s intentions are in comparison to others operating in Poland, his roommate is a British soldier (Daniel Webb) running a profitable black-market scheme.
There’s a heavy scene where a trio of Polish goons ransack Emelia’s place and beat the women up and steal the little money they saved up to pay for crossing the border back to Germany. Everything seems so hopeless, at that point. In the film’s grandest scene: the light shines through the window of Emilia’s bare apartment after she makes love to the soldier. And, he seizes the moment and sees this as the chance for both of them to escape their misery by getting married and finding happiness. Since she wouldn’t leave her mother behind, it would require both of them escaping to Germany. That can be arranged for money through illegal sources, but the ailing mother is tired of life and thinks she can save her daughter by giving her a present whereby she escapes alone and marries Norman and lives with the farmer in America. But the past has been too overwhelming for Emilia to relish the present, as she feels crushed by life and can’t see any way of escaping her impoverished fate.
The film’s most elegant scene comes near the end as the lovers are dancing dreamlike alone in Monument Valley, where John Ford shot his Westerns. The foreigners only impressions of America are often from the movies and that was the case with Emilia and her mother, as the only American film they ever saw and still fondly recall was Stagecoach.
The “Quiet Sun” ties Emilia’s fate with Poland’s, as the film really has no messages to deliver other than to tell its quiet story. When Emilia just finds one tender moment in all the misery, it perhaps signifies all the happiness she or her country could expect for now. “The Quiet Sun” is a deeply human work with keen observations about the human condition and spirit. It satisfies and surprisingly startles one with its wry observations and its powerful final scenes.
REVIEWED ON 11/20/2002 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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