Marcus Vinicius meets Lygia in Rome and falls in love. But she is Christian and doesn't want anything to do with him. Marcus decides to kidnap her but Ursus, her bodyguard, catches Marcus. ... See full summary »
Set at the historic moment of rebirth of Poland after World War I. The newly organized National Assembly elected Gabriel Narutowicz, a professor returning home from Switzerland to enter ... See full summary »
Having just completed watching Kawalerowicz's classic CELLULOSE pair of movies, I followed up with THE SHADOW (Cien), a marvelous and innovative experiment in suspense. This film, heavily influenced by not only Hitchcock but Kurosawa's RASHOMON, is out on DVD and needs to be rediscovered.
It's an interesting and unpredicted twist of film history that in the video era, basically the past three decades, all manner of obscure and previously reviled titles (porn, cheap-jack horror, roadshow exploitation) have been revived and even taken center stage of cinema for a huge number of retro fans. At the same time, masterworks of previous eras, especially the foreign films that dominated art houses in the '50s, have fallen by the wayside to near-complete obscurity. For my pop quiz, ask any young film buff (under the age of 40) if they've ever heard of SUNDAYS AND CYBELE, once the prototypical art film.
THE SHADOW is among the forgotten, yet watching it last night I was struck how it covers, in radically different style and theme, the very popular current terrain staked out by Christopher Nolan. Much of THE SHADOW is even more complex (and certainly more subtle) than Nolan's recent crowd-pleasers including MEMENTO, INCEPTION and THE PRESTIGE. Yet its thematics, heavily under the sway of the Stalinist era in which it was made in Poland, are a major roadblock to contemporary audiences' embracing its content.
Formally, THE SHADOW takes the RASHOMON gambit of a narrative that keeps shifting the point-of-view so that the audience sees events from radically different perspectives. Instead of focusing on a single event as Kurosawa did (seen by different people), the structure is more in the nature of a Bunuelian trick. One person relates (cueing a flashback) their pivotal unsolved mystery, and this inspires other people to relate analogous mysteries, which have some intriguing and surprising points of overlap.
Film begins with a couple joy-riding in their car, only to be shocked at a passenger plummeting from a nearby train. They rush to the body and find it mangled, taking it to the authorities. One go-getter cop comments that a man always leaves a shadow, that will inevitably unwrap the mystery of his existence (a sort of "Bones"/"CSI" approach), while a doctor on the case points out this is not always true, inspired to spin his yarn of a WW II incident he was never able to adequately unravel.
He was part of a communist underground group the People's Guard during the Nazi occupation, assigned to rob a store to raise money for the cause. Caper goes awry with the arrival of a group of guys who open fire, with the doc surviving the battle but unable to find out what went wrong. Later he discovers a maimed antagonist who turns out to member of a different cell, as someone orchestrated sending both groups on the same raid simultaneously to have them wipe each other out. He was never able to identify the mastermind.
Back at present day, the authorities pick up a young guy who had grabbed the dead man's coat on the train and cannot come up with a reasonable alibi for his suspicious behavior -he is the prime clue as to the corpse's identity.
A detective recalls his own unsolved mystery from 1946 when he was fighting against a mysterious traitor nicknamed the Dwarf. With his buddy they finally infiltrate the Dwarf's lair, but his presumed pal turns on him, selling him out to save his own skin. This builds to an unbelievably suspenseful confrontation (worthy of Clouzot or Hitchcock) which I won't spoil, and returning to the present day we see the permanent damage suffered by the detective as a result.
Film picks up with a flashback of the young suspect's back story leading to his apprehension with the dead man's coat. He's a fall guy in a terrorist bombing, with some exciting chases including a scary, ultra-realistic (no Hitchcock process screens) pursuit on the train. Film's open ending leaves the mysteries fairly intact, but with the viewer pondering the unknowability of many bizarre events. Like the first cop, we crave certitude but Kawalerowicz and his talented scriptwriter Aleksander Scibor-Rylski (who later wrote Wajda's MAN OF MARBLE and MAN OF IRON), demonstrate there are many things that cannot be explained.
The mood of paranoia, gradually accreting suspense, and eventual hopelessness is superbly essayed by Kawalerowicz's fanciful camera-work, exploiting the popular neo-Realist use of locations, but plenty of low angles and subtly distorting lens closeups -not exaggerated but effective. Jerzy Lipman is the cinematographer, famous for his Wajda classics as well as Polanski's debut KNIFE IN THE WATER.
I loved this strange movie and would recommend it to anyone open to expanding their view of cinema, beyond the effective but increasingly tired clichés which have encrusted what audiences want and expect in a suspense film. This is all about the loose ends.
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