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"In an action film you act in the action. If it's a dramatic film you act in a drama" (Jean Claude Van Damme).
Having seen 80 MILLION directed by Waldemar Krzystek on the big screen, I experienced something not so common when applied to Polish cinema: smiles of satisfaction. 80 MILLION, selected for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, proves a considerable achievement as a drama but foremost as an effective action movie. 80 MILLION beautifully meets the standards of any American film with some portion of violence, sex but, above all, thrilling action. Although the film tells a story of true events that took place in historic (for Poland) December 1981 when the communist regime announced the martial law (the action is set in Wroclaw and the film is shot on location there), the content of the film does not require a viewer to be much knowledgeable about the historical events. Why?
80 MILLION, in its background, is a depiction of People's Republic of Poland in the early 1980s - the gray lives of people oppressed within regime. This historical backdrop, however, is used by the director as a clever conceit to frame the plot. Mind you that there is not one protagonist that would make a film a sort of appraisal of one person's heroism. It is neither a documented depiction of Solidarnosc movement and its ideals. There is, nevertheless, Lech Walesa in the background but, rightly so, he appears on TV - idea rather than a concrete character. Nothing is 'heroic' but rather 'humane' there are more people, more simple members of Solidarnosc who are not afraid to oppose to the cruelty of those in power. In that respect, Joanna Morena in her review on the film nicely observes that "people are in the foreground." Wladyslaw Frasyniuk (Filip Bobek), Maks (Marcin Bosak), Staszek (Wojciech Solarz) represent those 'brothers in arms' - indefatigable in their fights. Much happens in their lives in these days and much is being photographed...They have their shortcomings, sure, but their mutual target makes them solidarity, united. Their stories incorporate a wide range of experiences from courage to fear, from loyalty to treason.
80 MILLION is, on the other hand, a fine example of human complexity cinematically personified. It seems that villains, though we don't like them, are most 'unforgettable.' Are there any villains in this film? Here I would like to highlight the character of Sobczak skillfully and memorably played by Piotr Glowacki. He is seemingly the incarnation of the communist power...however, in the long run, it occurs that he is driven more by some personal, hateful motives than ideals he hardly believes in. Sobczak shocks us as a character but, at the same time, he perfectly stimulates viewers to psychoanalyze a man who has 'some' power over other people. What hidden drives come out of him, indeed, his character reinforces the duality of human nature and his character is more complex than some viewers would expect. Consider the scene at the archbishop's palace and his vulgarism that works as a disguise of inner fear. He spills the beans about the state of communist regime of the time but, foremost, the state of his inner self...Full credit for the actor!
80 MILLION is, foremost, an intriguing and thrilling detective story. The set of the gray People's Republic of Poland does not constitute any obstacle to execute an excellently absorbing action drama. The title 80 million Polish zloty, which belongs to Solidarnosc, is taken from the bank (a huge sum for the time) a few days before the martial law and hidden at the archbishop's palace. The tension that keeps a viewer in a chair while every little step is being counted is convincing. At the same time, humor may leak through the walls of gray censorship. Many scenes, in that respect, make the film highly worth seeing.
Riveting entertainment and a new glimpse of quite a depressing period of Polish history that did not lack creative and brave people, anyway. Poland's effective story and an interesting gift of thrill to international audiences.
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