(director/writer: Krzysztof Zanussi; cinematographer: Edward Klosinski; editor: Wanda Zeman; music: Wojciech Kilar; cast: Zbigniew Zapasiewicz (Wiktor), Jerzy Stuhr (Radca), Remo Girone (Italian Consul), Andrzej Chyra (New Consul), Halina Golanko (Helena), Ewa Telega (Helena’s sister), Maria Bekker (Oksana), Nikita Mikhalkov (Oleg), Daniel Olbryschsky (Deputy Minister); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Iwona Ziulkowska-Okapiec; Clavis Films; 2005-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)
Intriguing humanistic tale about an outsider Polish diplomat, a survivor of the solidarity movement.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi (“Nightwatch”/”The Illumination”/”Structure of Crystals”) is writer and director of this intriguing humanistic tale about an outsider Polish diplomat, a survivor of the Solidarity movement, who is still an outsider even though his side won and he’s been rewarded with a plum post in the new government. It’s a film that in its deeper moments explores betrayal among friends and the new relationship Poland has with a post-Glasnost Russia–even taking the time to show the slight differences between the orthodox Christians and Catholics.

Wiktor (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), the elderly Polish ambassador to Uruguay, is saddened by the unexpected death of his wife Helena (Halina Golanko) due to a stroke, and upon her request has her cremated. Returning after the funeral ceremony to business, Wiktor’s sneaky deputy (Jerzy Stuhr) betrays him to the deputy minister (Daniel Olbryschsky), his old pal from Solidarity, accusing him of being mentally unfit for the job. Meanwhile Wiktor pulls strings to bring to Uruguay a young idealistic communist Polish consul (Andrzej Chyra) and his pretty Russian wife Oksana (Maria Bekker) he met in Moscow while studying there as a student.

Wiktor’s asked by the deputy minister to use his influence with the womanizing elderly Russian deputy minister (Nikita Mikhalkov) to secure a helicopter contract for Poland, but Wiktor is more interested in finding out if the Russian ever slept with his wife. After their friendly conversation turns hostile, the minister leaves Wiktor a photo of himself with his wife in a respectable pose.

When Wiktor catches Oksana going through his desk drawers and copying diplomatic papers he receives from his minister, he suspects she’s a mole planted by Russian intelligence and someone aiding the Russians so they get the helicopter contract. One of the more touching scenes is when Wiktor must put down his giant German shepherd, and shows as much loss for the dog as he does his beloved wife. There’s also an incident where a Polish citizen lied about a lost passport and wants the embassy to issue a duplicate, and after Wiktor issues one against his deputy’s advice the man is found dead the next day and his coffin is lined with cocaine for a smuggling ring. In an act of kindness, the ambassador willingly offers to get passports for Polish girls trapped in Uruguay whose pimp is holding their passports, but not all the girls take up his generous offer.

It seems everyone in the story is suspected of doing something that’s not right. The air is finally cleared for our sympathetic hero when he releases his wife’s ashes in the ocean and suddenly recovers from being a permanent dissident and a doubting husband to return to his musicologist roots to compose a majestic piano score.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2013 GRADE: A-