Dir: Piotr Trzaskalski. Poland. 2002. 100mins
Polish Oscar hopeful Edi presents a touching portrait of a man who has lost everything in life yet accepts his fate with a stoicism and respectful courage. The Polish feature debut from director Piotr Trzaskalski, who has spent the past 10 years in Polish television, the film is disarmingly simple in its plot and emotional appeal yet profound in its ability to convince audiences to re-assess the down-and-outs they pass every day on the street. With an excellent performance from Henryk Golebiewski in the lead, the film should garner international television sales as well as generating festival interest. At home, it has registered 207,656 admissions after nine weeks and is now playing on 21 screens. However, its small scale and downbeat storyline will make it a tough sell for the larger audiences beyond Poland.
Edi (Trzaskalski) and his alcoholic friend Jureczek survive as scrap-metal scavengers in the inner city along with an assortment of other alcoholics and homeless people, thrown away by society just like the cast-off junk they collect and sell. But Edi has another passion: the books thrown away by others that he reads in his spare time.
His knowledge comes to the attention of two neighbourhood thugs, keen to see Princess, their wayward 17-year-old sister, pass her school exams. Convinced Edi is too ugly for her to fancy him - she is kept under lock and key - the pair are left alone.
For her part, Princess has fallen for a local gypsy, who Edi eventually allows her to sneak out and meet. But when she eventually falls pregnant, Princess claims Edi raped her: he is castrated by her brothers, left for dead and has the baby dumped on him when it is eventually born. But instead of simply lamenting his fate, he and Jureczek move escape to the countryside with the baby to start a new life.
As Edi, Golebiewski turns in a performance full of gentleness and humility that can but win audience hearts. His acceptance of what life has dealt him is tinged with quiet courage, yet his character invokes admiration as well as pity.
Cinematographer Krzysztof Ptak uses simple but effective shots such as the opening scene of a bird's eye view of a busy city street with a crack down the centre to invoke a level of lyricism without overstepping the mark, while the ugliness of the inner city is contrasted subtly with the quiet beauty of the Polish countryside. Wojciech Lemanski's score is first rate but risks emotional overkill with so much pulling on the heartstrings already on display.
Prod co: Opus Film
Polish dist: SPI International
Int'l sales: Polish TV, non-exclusive rights
Prods: Piotr Dzieciol, Krzysztof Ptak
Scr: Piotr Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka
Cinematography: Krzysztof Ptak
Prod des: Wojciech Zogala
Ed: Cezary Kowalczuk
Music: Wojciech Lemanski
Main cast: Henryk Golebiewski, Jacek Braciak, Aleksandra Kisio, Jacek Lenartowicz, Grzegorz Stelmaszewski
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