BARRIER (BARIERA) (director/writer: Jerzy Skolimowski; cinematographer: Jan Laskowski; editor: Halina Prugar-Ketling; music: Krzysztof Komeda; cast: Jan Nowicki (Unnamed Protagonist), Joanna Szczerbic(Tram Driver), Tadeusz Lomnicki(Doctor), Maria Malicka (Cleaning Lady), Zdzislaw Maklakiewicz (Paper Seller), Ryszard Pietruski (Waiter); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; Janus Films; 1966-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)

This is a well-conceived surreal satire, whose success promoted Skolimowski to be spokesman for the cynical new Polish generation.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The third film by the twenty-something Polish director-writer Jerzy Skolimowski (“Moonlighting”/”Deep End”/”The Shout”)is a powerful cynical surrealist political pic on the stagnation of modern Communist Poland.The bleak pic follows its main protagonist, an unnamed disillusioned medical student (Jan Nowicki), who after participating in a strange ritualistic Polish game with three other male medical students wins a piggy-bank filled with coins and instead of sharing the spoils like the others professed they would do he takes the money and brandishes a sabre given him by his father and wanders around Warsaw during the Easter season. Searching for either the good life or the meaning of life, the student comes across only a spiritless country that’s overwhelmed by its bureaucracy, ugly materialism, soulless new buildings or a superstitious population engaged in an idol worshiping brand of Christianity that he mocks in a Bunuel-like way. Society is seemingly haunted by the tragedies of the last war, the oppression of the past and the hopeless sense of life inherited from the aging population. The student’s only hope is in the impulsive romance between him and a perky young blonde tram driver (Joanna Szczerbic), an idealized unattainable woman, in whose tram he dangerously clings to the front window (like a Christ figure) in the film’s last shot as he finds her again after they lost sight of each other. This shot is the only one in the pic expressing some hope.

The fantasy pic is filled with startling imagery (like a restaurant suddenly full of dancing customers wearing paper hats), and a unique way of looking at the dismal landscape. This is a well-conceived surreal satire, whose success promoted Skolimowski to be spokesman for the cynical new Polish generation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”


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