Dir/scr:Krzysztof Zanussi. Pol-Russ-It. 2005. 117mins.

Krzysztof Zanussimakes films for mature specialised audiences, interested in human nature andethical standards rather than in plots, heroes and villains. If this dooms himto a small, appreciative cinema-going crowd and to selective festivals (likehis competition slot in Venice), then so be it. He has never appeared to bebothered by the fact before, and Persona Non Grata gives no indicationthat he has any intention of changing.

For the third time(after Supplement and Life As A Sexually Transmitted Disease),Zanussi deals with a non-sexy subject, namely preparation for death bynon-violent means. Once more he uses Zbigniew Zapasiewicz in the lead, againsta world of diplomacy, which he is only too familiar with.

This sense of himplaying at home is aided by the charismatic presence of Nikita Mikhalov in asupporting but crucial role, exquisite camerawork from Edward Klosinski and amoving soundtrack provided by Wojciech Kilar.

Thus admirers willonce more find plenty enough reason to stay faithful, while detractors, whohave accused his films in the past of being too talky, visually tooconventional and too old fashioned, will continue to raise the same claims.

Poland's ambassadorto Montevideo, Victor (Zapasiewicz), returns home for the funeral of his wife,Helena. His close friend, Oleg, (Mikhalkov), now a deputy minister in Moscow,is also there, and the first brief conversation between them introduces the keymotives that will drive the rest of the picture: trust (and the lack of it),protest (and the need to keep it in rein) and, most of all, suspicion - theessential quality for survival in politics and on which Zanussi subsequentlythrows cool cynical light.

The plot itselffollows Victor's return to Uruguay, still mourning his wife, the repeatedclashes he has with his counsellor Lisicki (Jerzy Stuhr), whom he suspects oftrying to stab him in the back, his confrontations with a new consul whom hehad flown over to the embassy, and his half-hearted efforts to please hisimmediate superior (Daniel Olbrychski), in town for an arms deal.

Everyone suspectsthe actions of everyone else but their true motives are never revealed:possibly Suspicion would have been a better title, if Hitchcock had notgot there first.

But Persona NonGrata amounts to more than suspicion, as Zanussi - as he has done before -explores the changes of moral code that have taken place in post-CommunistEastern Europe, where individuals have seemingly adapted to Western customswhile deep down still adhering to the basic concepts that ruled their past.

The story that is supposedto support all these suppositions is not always solid; nor is Zanussi thatinterested in plotline options open to him such as diplomatic espionage, armdeals or even jealousy and revenge.

Rather hisfascination is with the characters, even secondary ones, who are inexorablyshaped by the background in which they grew up, like Oxana (Maria Bekker), thenew consul's wife, a young Russian woman who is already preparing for the worstpossible future - even when life seems at its best.

The omnipresent themeof Persona Non Grata is undoubtedly death, which creeps up time andagain in different guises. It's a theme with which Zanussi is obviouslyobsessed; whether death equates with the natural demise of things which ceaseto exist or a means of communion with something bigger. Either way, it is the final trip that everyone has toprepare for.

No levity there,then - but then it would not be Zanussi if there was. And yet, despite soundingtoo arid for words, Persona Non Grata is not. There is an underlying ironycopiously spread throughout which is difficult to ignore when the dialogue ishandled by the likes of Zapasiewicz and Mikhalkov, who not only bring out thehuman dimension but also the best in every line.

Solid support bysuch seasoned veterans as Stuhr and Olbrychski help greatly, while the hightechnical standards are par for the course.

Production companies
TOR Film Production
Three T
Polish Television
Canal +
Istituto Luce

International sales
TOR Film Production

Executive producers
Nikita Mikhalkov
Leonid Vereschagin
Rosanna Seregni

Krzysztof Zanussi
Iwona Ziulowska-Okapiec

Edward Klosinsky

Wanda Zeman

Production design
Jagna Janicka

Wojciech Kilar

Main cast
Zibigniew Zapasiewicz
Nikita Mikhalkov
Jerzy Stuhr
Daniel Olbrychski
Andrzej Chyra
Maria Bekker
Bruno Aldecosea
Jorge Bolani
Jacek Borcuch
Tadeusz Bradecki
Luis Lage
Tatiana Shlahova
Remo Girone
Victoria Zinny