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Moving film about one of the greatest men that have ever lived, John Paul II
Soon after the death of the beloved Pope John Paul II, the movie by Giacomo Battiato was released on the Italian TV in two parts. Poland, however, was the exception. The distributors decided to release the movie in cinemas on June, the 17th. Battiato's film has been enthusiastically accepted by the majority of viewers, not only as the biographical work, but as a profound insight into the times which Karol Wojtyla experienced. Although it contains some simplifications and changes, the movie, based on the book by Gianfranco Svidercorschi, aims at emphasizing the phenomenon of Wojtyla's personality together with the times he grew in rather than presenting sheer biographical facts.
CONTENT: Krakow, September 1939, the German army invade the city under the leadership of Nazi general Hans Frank (Matt Craven). From the beginning, their politics is destructive towards everything that is Polish, the culture and the whole Polish Nation. The attack of hatred and destruction is directed towards elites of Polish universities, particularly, Professors at Jagiellonian University, and the Church. Young Karol experiences these events very cruelly, the suffering of his Nation is his suffering. His plans to study Polish philology and literature, to become an actor are ruined, his dearest friends (including the Jewish Family Kluger) are taken to Holocaust or killed on the way. The world seems to have turned into sheer bestial madness. But Karol's escape are books and prayer. With some of his friends, including Hania (Malgorzata Bela), they decide to retain the Polish culture meeting secretly and cultivating their love to the theater. They strengthen their faith that the only cure for the hatred in the world is love. It is then that Karol decides to be a priest and serve God. He goes to the seminar after which he serves his First Holy Mass on November, the 2nd, 1946. But the cruel experience of WWII does not end. After WWII, Poland experiences another pressure of the totalitarian reign, this time it is communism, illusively directed towards the goodness of people and openly against the Church. Karol as a young priest, later bishop and cardinal, never gives up defending human rights, heading for the real goodness of the society, and consoling people, sowing hope whenever possible. The movie shows two most important events: Poznan (1956) and Nowa Huta (1977). This experience which started with the trials of his Nation leads him to Rome, to the memorable 16th of October 1978 when the whole world hears the news: Habemus Papam... Cardinalem Wojtyla (the archive final shot of the movie).
CHARACTERS: There are very interesting characters showed in Battiato's film. It is noble prof. Wojcik (Kenneth Welsh) who does not lose faith in free Poland. He represents the real power - the power of thought that is a better weapon than any other. The most memorable scene concerning this character is when prof Wojcik speaks to Frank: "Can't you see there is no longer any life in you?!" Another well developed character is Adam (Ken Duken), who is first a spy against Wojtyla, but later realizes what the truth is: the one that is offered by the communists or the one by the Catholic Church? The accurate representation of some fictitious characters in KAROL appears to be similar as in another movie about Karol Wojtyla, FROM A FAR COUNTRY (1981) by Krzysztof Zanussi.
CAST AND MUSIC: The movie, except for the wonderful content and characters that it entails, is well made artistically. The cast that are in the movie give fine performances. Piotr Adamczyk is a perfect choice for Karol Wojtyla, he deeply feels the role trying to make the portrayal as authentic as possible. Moreover, he looks pretty similar. Raoul Bova as priest Tomasz Zaleski gives his most memorable performance in the scene of his visit to general Frank. His speech about the Jewish children makes an effect in the viewer and is, indeed, very well played. Except for other cast, I particularly liked the performances of: Matt Craven as Frank - he seems to portray a man deprived of any human feelings; a famous Bulgarian actor, Hristo Shopov who portrays a fanatic cruel communist Julian Kordek; and the fictitious role of Hania performed by a beautiful model, Malgosia Bela. As far as the crew is concerned, it is significant to mention famous Ennio Morricone who wrote music to this film.
MESSAGE: If someone asked me what this film is trying to convey, I would probably answer that its message is identical with what Karol Wojtyla was saying throughout his life - Cure everything through love and forgiveness. It is a very Christian message that John Paul II learned from Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Virgin Mary during his whole life. It is especially noticeable in the moment when he speaks to the young people: of course you are free to take the gun and fight them (the communists), but I advise you to promote the civilization of love. That is also the thing that he said to the youth during the Jubilee of 2000: "I see in you, dear young friends, the protectors of the Third Morning" In spite of some minor mistakes of this movie (some important people are skipped, including archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha), it is worth seeing to get to know the magnificent person that John Paul II was, how he grew to sanctity (that is how a lot of people see him now).
This movie will lead you to precious reflections on your life, similarly like almost each word said by the dear late Holy Father John Paul II. At the end of my long review, I will quote the words of archbishop Stanislav Dziwisz, John Paul II's lifelong friend and companion. These words came to my mind throughout the whole movie:
"John Paul the Second! Thank you that you were with us!
John Paul the Great! Thank you that you are with us!
John Paul the Saint! Pray for us!"
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