She runs for miles, with no pursuers in sight, until she collapses unconscious at the feet of a Dutch farmer. Imminently worthy of limited domestic distribution, Algeria-born filmmaker Karim Traidia's feature debut is compelling cinema, with several long, dialogue-free stretches and a strong, upbeat resolution.
Although the details are never completely spelled out, the tattered woman is Anna (Monic Hendrickx), a Pole lured from her homeland and abused by an elderly pimp (Rudi Falkenhagen) and his thuggish son (Roef Ragas). It's her good fortune to escape and find her way to the farm of Henk (Jaap Spijkers), a decent, hard-working loner facing difficulties obtaining a bank loan.
There is momentary tension as we're not sure what Henk plans to do with this stranger who speaks a foreign language. But he calls no authorities and brushes off the pimp and his son when they come looking for her. She has awakened his protective instincts, and his busy schedule includes carefully nursing her back to health and not discouraging her attempts to return his kindness.
Little is said because of their language problem, but once it's clear he won't send her away, she makes an effort to help him around the house and begins to learn Dutch. The film's delightful middle segment depicts their blossoming relationship, with his perpetually cranky, preoccupied demeanor cracking and her confidence and sense of humor returning.
Be warned: This is not a movie to see with an empty stomach. Much of the leads' interaction takes place during meals and at snake-time in the barn and fields. One of their mutual breakthroughs occurs when she serves him Polish food and he responds positively.
Alas, the villains return and attempt to take Anna, but recalling a great line from "Doctor Zhivago" -- "Beware the anger of a patient man" -- Henk is in no mood to give her up without a fight. Immediately after a violent encounter that comes on unexpectedly, Henk and Anna surrender to their carnal desires for each other in the film's most risky scene.
In the aftermath, she returns to Poland and her young daughter, setting up the poignant conclusion. Set in the northeastern highlands province of Groningen in the Netherlands, "Polish Bride" is wonderfully atmospheric and visually superb, including exquisitely lighted interiors.
The performances couldn't be more on the money. Netherlands-born Hendrickx's character has an initial fragility that is replaced gradually by strength and determination as she effortlessly downplays her good looks and earthy attractiveness. Spijkers ("Character") is big and handsome, but he's so wrapped up in his portrayal that the viewer, like Anna, finds nothing boring about his endless work and simple lifestyle.
THE POLISH BRIDE
Motel Films, IJswater Films
Credits: Director: Karim Traidia; Screenwriter: Kees van der Hults; Producers: Jeroen Beker, Frans van Gestel, Marc Bary, Ilana Netiv; Director of photography: Jacques Laureys; Art director: Anne Winterink; Editor: Chris Teerink; Music: Fons Merkies. Cast: Henk: Jaap Spijkers; Anna: Monic Hendrickx; Pimp: Rudi Falkenhagen; Pimp's Son: Roef Ragas; Mailman: Hakim Traidia. No MPAA Rating. Color/stereo. Running time -- 90 minutes.