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The peaceful world of a monastery, in a small town Jasmine, is destroyed by the arrival of monument restorers, Natasha, along with her daughter Eugenia. The legend associated with the monastery bode revelation in him a saint in the near future. Despite initial reluctance, Natasha starts the maintenance of the image stored there. The secrets of the monastery are unraveled: the unhappy lovers bodies placed in the catacombs, the secret elixir of love, created with the smell of the monks. Written by
Scents and Sense in Kolski's Jasminum (bbraleyP566)
Jasminum by Jan Jakub Kolski is, to my mind, well described by the terms 'unusual' and 'charming' that have been applied to it by Polish reviews. Certainly, the backdrop of a small town and monastery both removes the story from Polish film of the second half of the twentieth century (most films involve one of the two cultural capitals or another prominent city such as Lodz) and tied it to Polish history and tradition (village life and the relationship o the Catholic Church to secular culture share this film's conceptual center). In addition to this, the content and themes in Jasminum interweave with those previously taken up by other Polish directors, most notably the theme of artist and artistic attitudes existing in conflict with religion and politics (addressed by Wajda in Man of Marble and engaged even in such blockbuster classics as Da Vinci) and the motif of broken or frustrated love and philosophical estrangement.
It is true that in Jasminum Kolski gives these topics a fresh airing, reinvigorating them with a slightly off-kilter, quirky narrative point of view and an enchanting cast (though Linda might have been better employed in a more demanding role). Everything from the botanically derived names of the candidates for sainthood down to the cinematographic details of verbal and visual perspective (the chiaroscuro lighting, music in the underground vault scene and knowing 'but-not-supposed-to-know' childishness of the narrator's commentary) adds to the eclectic atmosphere of this love drama. And whether Kolski was successful or not in pulling in off, a love drama it was apparently meant to be.
The film's preoccupation with smell would seem to provide some clue as to the director's essential vision of this tale of love. The heroine (whose tale is, charmingly, told by her daughter) discover piece by piece the secrets of the saints of older days and even of the monks currently living in the cloister. Birdcherry, Plum, Roch--finally, jasmine, the very 'heart' of love, as we find out along with Natasha--all provide the scent-addicted ladies of the town with something so essential they seem unable to bear life without it. What magic do these fragrances conceal, making them so seductive? It would seem they offer their wearers a certain distillation of the life-force itself, an irresistible attractiveness, self-confidence and perhaps most of all a renewed sense of life's possibilities. They transform reality in accordance with the wearer's will in the concentrations appropriate not to weakness but to saintly strength, fortitude and charity.
However, in the end it is the humblest of the monks--Sanitas--who, though tempted by the glory in a new pair of glossy boots, cherished his relationship with little Eugenia, the narrator, and with other small, helpless creatures above all else. While each of the monks is portrayed sympathetically through Kolski's lens (even Birdcherry, the source of Natasha's bitterness), the most penetrating and genuinely touching aspect of this narrative is the growing attachment between an old man and a little girl who, it turns out, have more in common than each originally believes.
The mother--the ostensible heroine, as she is verbally depicted by Eugenia--has her own tale, forming a second stratum of the film's treatment of love. Hers is a story of disappointment and bitterness distilled over time, and it is only slightly mitigated through her meeting with her runaway fiancée. While Natasha's unwillingness to place her own trust in a love potion (as does her own disciple) and consequent search for 'oblivion' in another concoction reveal her veiled motivation for working in the cloister, they also complicate and add a sense of authenticity to her character.
I wholeheartedly agree with the online review that bravely call the movie 'weak'--in the sense that what at heart is meant to be a love story is to a great extent undermined by the secondary plot involving Boleslaw Linda. In the layer of Kolski's message love is portrayed exclusively as sex without much elaboration, forcing Linda and his stage partner into somewhat superficial roles. Even if by this Kolski is merely attempting to represent various attitudes to love and the way individuals are taken by surprise, he fails to provide the internal logic of the rapidly-developing and 'out of the blue' relationship that evidently blossoms into marital bliss.
While Jasminum's atmosphere is engaging and the plot thought-provoking, I ultimately find it a mite contrived and more than a little bit mystifying. I would like to see this very deservingly popular director channel his energies towards even more of these 'modern fairy tales' (bajki), provided he remains faithful to the human reality as well...meaning, just as many fantastic oddities but alongside them a more nuanced and carefully handled human component.
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