In small-town Poland in the late 1950s, an aging woman married to a workaholic doctor meets a young man who makes her feel young again. Framed around this story, lead actress Krystyna Janda discusses the death of her husband from cancer.
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Marta, a European woman semi-happily married to a local physician. She learns that he has contracted lung cancer, but deliberately resists informing her of his dire impending fate -- because she's already emotionally fragile for the death of their young sons during the war. Then, one day, when she is walking with a friend, she catches a glimpse of a handsome, strapping 20-year-old man named Boguslaw and feels instantly drawn to his youth and sexuality. She then beckons him into a mentor-protégé relationship, which inevitably leads to an affair. She expresses her desire to collect rushes for the upcoming Pentecost feast, an event designed to celebrate life, and the passage of spring into summer -- but she doesn't realize that the freshness of life that beckoned her when she first spotted Boguslaw will ultimately be her undoing.Written by
First off the English name of the title is a little misleading, it does not regard the effect of consuming sugar, it's referring to plants that grow by the riverside. But don't worry it's still good! It is a film within a film, although the purpose here is not so much a treatise on film making. The inner film is based on Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz's short story Tatarak. This concerns a melancholic doctor's wife Marta, living a slow-paced life in iron curtain Poland, I think the story is set around 1960. It is a very short story, the movie is only 85 minutes long, and half of it is the film outside the film. Marta has a measure of survivor syndrome following the war, and misses having young people around the house, and so strikes up a relationship with a sweet young working class man called Bogus, who is the boyfriend of a girl who sees herself as superior because she is a university student. She is pressurising him to be more than he is, and so his rendezvous with Marta is an escape for him too.
One of my favourite shots in terms of pure image craft in the movie is in the dining room of Marta's house, the set table is covered over in a white table-cloth (a formality of a bygone era?), and is reflected in a large ornate mirror on the back wall which tilts out at an angle as it is hung like a picture. This throws the image of the table so that it takes up almost the entire mirror, and it somehow is surrounded only in darkness, you cannot see any of the rest of the room. It is a shot that reminds me of the existential fragility of many of the old still life paintings for example of Adriaen Coorte.
The plant in question is more commonly known as Calamus or Sweet Flag. It has two quite different odours, the root is pungent whilst the blade is more sweet smelling. This is a metaphor for the transitory nature of happiness in the movie, the root is death, the blade is life. The rendezvous take place among the sweet rushes. The Greeks had a story for the origin of the rush, told in Nonnus's Dionysiaca, where, upon the drowning of his lover during a swimming race in the river, Calamus drowned himself in sympathy and turned into a sweet rush. So the soughing of the wind in the rushes is a lament.
Krystyna Janda, who plays Marta in the film, was married to Wajda's frequent collaborator cinematographer Edward Klosinski. He had a rather nasty cancer during the filming of Tatarak, and died. The film then becomes at some level a memorial for him. We see how the grief of the cancer infused Krystyna during the performance. We also see her deliver a monologue regarding her experiences with her husband around the time of his death, which are very sad. Mostly she is in a spartan room, delivering a monologue, but also we see her sometimes on set of the film, before or after shooting, and once, heartbreakingly in the rain.
Tatarak won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the award is "given to a movie which opens new perspectives in film art". Well that is exactly what this movie does. You can scarcely watch a better film.
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