Starring: Borys Szyc, Magdalena Boczarska, Maria Dębska
Directed by: Michał Rosa
No need to stand on ceremony for the fact Michał Rosa was able to release his biopic on Józef Piłsudski, the leader that brought back Poland on the map of Europe, only after nearly a year from the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence. Still, as to timeliness, Piłsudski premiered in Polish cinemas one week ahead of Dariusz Gajewski’s epic drama and box-office competitor The Legions.
The Polish cineaste restricted the field to 18 years of Piłsudski’s life covering his adventurous getaway from a Saint Petersburg psychiatric hospital in 1901 until the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty.
After the exciting escape in the prologue, Rosa gives the viewers as sort of “emotional cold turkey” characterised by the sudden cessation of adrenaline-fuelled sequences. The epic quality of the movie withers as the script swings towards the love triangle between Piłsudski (Borysz Szyc), his wife Maria (Magdalena Boczarska), and future second spouse Aleksandra Szczerbińska (Maria Dębska).
The lull in the storyline is suddenly disrupted by the bloody confrontation between the Polish Socialist Party and Tsarist forces on Grzybowski Square in Warsaw that took place on November 13, 1904. The riot sequence set in a dazzling almost-Mediterranean sunlight is astonishing in its painting-like aesthetic and violence. All credit to Rosa for not sugar-coating on the big screen the struggle of the ready-for-anything Polish insurgents.
A pompous period drama or cinematic rendition of Piłsudski’s private persona? Rosa’s film is neither one thing nor the other. Piłsudski lacks somehow both intimacy and grandeur.
Szyc overplays his role as much as needed to embody the Polish Marshal par excellence with charisma and aplomb. His artful acting will be appreciated even more by those having a smattering of Polish language due to the actor’s attempt to deliver his lines in the more Eastern accent typical of the Lithuania-born national hero. Boczarska’s performance, not far behind, earned her a Golden Lion for best actress in Gdynia.