Dir: Krzysztof Zanussi. Poland. 2000. 99mins.
Prod co: Tor Film Production. Int'l sales: Mercure Distribution, tel: (33) 1 44 168 120. Scr: Krzysztof Zanussi. Prod: Krzysztof Zanussi. DoP: Edward Klosinski. Editor: Marek Denys. Music: Wojciech Kilar. Art dir: Halina Dobrowolska. Costume des: Jagna Janicka. Sound: Katarina Dzida. Main cast: Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Krystyna Janda, Tadeusz Bradecki.
Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi deservedly won the Grand Prix at this year's Moscow International Film Festival for this profound work that tackles the subject of death head-on and pulls no punches in challenging us to prepare for a fate that sooner or later awaits us all. It's a tough film to watch but it is sure to win a host of festival prizes over the coming year and Zanussi's name should also ensure arthouse distribution.
Tomasz is a Warsaw doctor who is spending a few days working on the set of a film about the life of Saint Bernard. As he watches the shooting of a scene where the saint delays the execution of a thief to give him time to prepare to meet his maker, Tomasz asks himself how people prepare themselves for death.
Returning to his regular job at the hospital the question soon becomes more than hypothetical as he discovers that he is seriously ill with lung cancer. At first he hopes that an experimental operation can save him. But by the time he raises the money for the surgery the disease is already so advanced that there is no hope. As a doctor himself he is familiar with disease and has no illusions about what awaits him and the inevitable progress of his illness and death. Rather than the usual romanticised story that usually follows when a leading character is fatally ill, Tomasz, played with great authority by Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, goes through the real fear, anxiety and emotional struggle that accompanies death.
Although not religious, Tomasz hopes to find some comfort in the church and seeks out a priest that he met on the set of the film, but is unable to accept the church that he has rejected all his life. As Tomasz is hospitalised and slowly dies, Zanussi brings us one of the most unadorned confrontations with death ever seen on screen. Yet the effect is far from depressing but rather a philosophical meditation on the future that all of us face.