(director/writer: Krzysztof Zanussi; cinematographer: Slawomir Idziak; editor: Urszula Sliwinska; music: Wojciech Kilar; cast: Tadeusz Bradecki (Witold), Zofia Mrozowska (Witold’s Mother), Malgorzata Zajaczkowska (Grazyna), Cezary Morawski (Stefan), Witold Pyrkosz (Mariusz); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; Clavis Films/PAL format DVD; 1980-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)

“Wrenching human condition drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Physicist and linguist Krzysztof Zanussi (“Silent Touch”/”Spirata”/”The Contract”) is writer-director of this wrenching human condition drama, that speaks out about corruption in the Communist regime of Poland, the horrors of a bureaucracy and uncovers a twisted way of life that might not so affect a foreign audience unaware of the local nuances as it does the home audience. It focuses on a young idealistic worker, Witold (Tadeusz Bradecki), someone interested in the logic of higher mathematics, who defers entering the university to work in Warsaw as a well-paid technician whose job includes traveling to different parts of the world to set up Polish international exhibitions. Witold’s widowed elderly mom (Zofia Mrozowska) lives in another town and is dying from cancer. When Witold was a youngster his father died climbing the Himalayas, as he accidentally stumbled on a stone. Witold, the dreamer, aspires following in his father’s footsteps and climbing the mountain. The idealist and analytical thinker believes that mathematics has the answers to life, and attends unaccredited college lectures to contemplate a math formula whereby a constant factor can bring about equality if properly applied–learning that it only works in complicated cases if carried out as it is meant to be without any short-cuts.

At the workplace the lad is disliked by his colleagues for refusing to accept bribes and acting morally superior, as he can’t adjust to all the petty corruption in the country and just become one of the boys.

When Witold’s mom has to be hospitalized, the son bungles the necessary bribing of a doctor to get mom the proper treatment. While looking out for his hospitalized mom, he begins a cautious romance with the shy and honest soulmate hospital nurse (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska). She tells him how to properly bribe the greedy older doctors, and is impressed by his social awkwardness.

When Witold is back at work after his mom dies and complains of workplace corruption, his corrupt boss refuses to let him go to Canada for an exhibition. His union and fellow workers refuse to back him when he files a grievance, but he wins when he gets a tape of his boss threatening him if he doesn’t go along with the corruption and the boss relents. He decides to take a leave of absence for a month and fulfill his dream of climbing the Himalayas rather than go to Canada, but a friend frames him and he’s stopped at the airport check point for trying to transport unreported money in his coat and he loses his job and chance to climb the mountain. Witold’s last seen working as a window-cleaner and having nightmares.

The slow moving story is filled with heavy-handed symbolism, exaggerated contrived situations and could be somewhat boring, but in some of the ordinary thingsZanussi lays out in the banal story something extra-ordinarily powerful manifests under his masterful direction.