Barbara Brylska and Jerzy Zelnik in Faraon (1966)


(director/writer: Jerzy Kawalerowicz; screenwriters: Tadeusz Konwicki/from the book by Boleslaw Prus; cinematographer: Jerzy Wojcik; editor: Wieslawa Otocka; music: Adam Walacinski; cast: Jerzy Zelnik (Ramsès XIII ), Wieslawa Mazurkiewicz (Nikotris), Barbara Brylska (Kama), Krystyna Mikolajewska (Sarah), Ewa Krzyzanowska (Hehor), Alfred Lodzinski (Hiram); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; Horizon Films/Facets; 1966-Poland-dubbed in English)

“An uninspiring tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jerzy Kawalerowicz directs an historical epic in the tradition of the Hollywood spectacle, but featuring stilted English dialogue and an uninspiring tale and an unsatisfying sense of splendor that is played stone cold without an ounce of humor. It made for a difficult watch, as the straight story was just not that interesting or worth three hours of telling–even though the Polish filmmaker probably succeeded in getting the details about ancient Egypt accurate.

Heir to the pharaoh Ramsès XIII (Zelnik) matches wits against the priests when his dad kicks the bucket and he impulsively upsets tradition by taking command of the military–a duty previously always occupied by the priests. Ramsès detests the priests because they have robbed him of his wealth (they are secretly hoarding gold as a tribute to the gods) and he considers them devious and unreliable subjects. His antagonism leads to a battle of survival between those loyal to him and those siding with the priests.

Adding to the melodrama Ramsès takes a Jewess, the musically gifted Sarah (Mikolajewska), as a mistress, who bears him a son. Political intrigue comes by way of the Phoenicians and the mistress Kama (Brylska). She is sent to Ramsès to replace the Jewess as his team plots to get him to go to war with Assyria, which his priests are against. The main body of this work is about the power struggle between Rameses and his temple priests. The romance story fizzles from lack of attention, as filmmaker Kawalerowicz chugs along with his dull political struggles, epic battle scenes and musical interludes of Egyptian tunes sung in Polish. He characterizes one character named Hiram as a malevolent Jew, and precedes to stereotype him in an obviously bias way from a hooked nose to other degrading features about his character traits which call attention to him being one of those Jewish types. It’s beyond me how this film was ever considered for an Oscar as a Best Foreign-Language Film nominee back in the 1960s.