Film Review: Sweet Rush

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Competition

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BERLIN -- After the considerable scope and solemn horror of his previous film, "Katyn" (2007), Poland's most celebrated filmmaker Andrzej Wajda produces in "Sweet Rush" ("Tatarak") a finely detailed, astutely crafted film in miniature, a small gemstone that glistens in the memory long after the lights come up. Judging from the production notes, the film, as it now emerges, represents an unplanned collaboration between the writer-director and his amazing actress Krystyna Janda, who launched her career in Wajda's landmark "Man of Marble" (1977).

Made in part with financing from Polish television, "Sweet Rush" is ideally suited to the small screen and home video. It's hard to see any other venue outside of Poland other than festival showings.

After three film adaptations of the works of Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, one of his country's eminent writers, Wajda wanted to film his short story "Sweet Rush" but worried about the story's brevity. He approached his friend Janda about playing the lead role, but she declined due to the illness of her husband, Wajda's longtime cinematographer Edward Klosinski. Following Klosinski's death, the two took up the film again.

Only now, at Janda's suggestion, the film has two stories.

In the main story, in post-World War II Poland, a lovely and dignified middle-aged woman, Martha (Janda), is terminally ill. But her husband, a small-town doctor (Jan Englert), doesn't tell her since she has so little time to live. As it is, Martha drifts in a melancholy state, still mourning the deaths of two sons in the war.

A working-class youth (Pawel Szajda) catches her eye. He is about the age her boys would be or maybe a few years younger. Her infatuation leads to a swimming date at the river where tragedy strikes. The boy drowns while trying to fetch sweet rushes Marta wants for house decorations.

But at the climax of this scene, suddenly, Wajda shows the film set, the divers in the water and indeed himself directing Janda, playing Marta. His actress flees the set in anguish. The death scene has hit too close to home.

Within the movie, we have already seen the actress on an austere, simple set, delivering a monologue before a stationary camera about the final days in her husband's life: How suddenly his death came. How unprepared she still is to cope with his passing.

He died between sips of water she fed him to keep him hydrated. He died, she said, in the afternoon, thus giving her time for an evening performance on stage.

This film within a film, which was Janda's idea and indeed she wrote her own lines, has extraordinary power. In art and in life, a man's passing is mourned. The twin stories with their focus on death and those left behind speak to the fragility and transitory nature of life.

Pawel Edelman's images are clear, dark and brooding. Pawel Mykietyn's soft score is filled with regret. The mood is somber but not depressed. Death is always there, for the old and young, for the sick and the seemingly healthy. "Sweet Rush" is profound in its simplicity

The film is dedicated to Edward Klosinski.

Production companies: Akson Studio/Polish Film Institute/Televizja Polska
Cast: Krystyna Janda, Pawel Szajda, Jan Englert, Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Julia Pietrucha
Director/screenwriter: Andrzej Wajda
Based on the short story by: Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz
Producer: Michael Kwiecinski
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Magdalena Dipont
Music: Pawel Mykietyn
Costume designer: Magdalena Biedrzycka
Editor: Milenia Fiedler
Sales: Akson Studio
No rating, 87 minutes