Time to Die



Edinburgh International Film Festival


EDINBURGH -- It's a pity that the makers of lovely Polish chamber-piece "Time To Die" ("Pora Umierac") chose to saddle their movie with one of the least enticing titles in recent memory. Intrepid audiences will soon realize that this lovely picture, while perhaps a tad overlong, isn't remotely as morbid as the gloomy moniker would suggest. Positive word-of-mouth from the festival circuit could perhaps translate to arthouse exposure, especially in urban areas conducive to Polish-language material, while small-screen play is a given.

The most obvious selling-point is a rather remarkable lead performance by nonagenarian actress Danuta Szaflarska, who's seldom off-camera for the best part of two hours. Director/screenwriter Dorota Kedzierzawska constructed both role and film with Szaflarska in mind. The quietly ambitious and original "Time To Die" is an affectionate tribute to and effective showcase for the sprightly star's talents.

She's Aniela, 91-year-old owner of a rambling house in an unspecified, woodsy, fairly central Warsaw suburb. For years, Aniela rented rooms to tenants, but now her final guest has departed and she's left alone with her memories. Well, not quite alone: She has the attentive company of sharp-eared, ever-hungry collie Phila. And she receives the occasional visit from her schlubby middle-aged son (Krzysztof Globisz) whom she suspects of scheming to get his sweaty hands on her property after -- or preferably before -- her demise. Aniela, however, has other ideas.

Szaflarska's wonderfully flinty turn is a consistent pleasure: While Aniela may be prone to elegaic reverie (signaled by tinkly piano-music on the score), she has a salty, wry view of mortality. Szaflarska isn't only thing to like and admire about "Time To Die," however.

Indeed, superbly expressive four-legged performer Tokaj shamelessly steals many scenes from his mistress, the resourceful and clever watchdog proving much more than merely a sounding-board for her nostalgic ramblings and her defiant assertions of independence. They make for a marvellous odd couple, rattling around a once-grand, now semi-dilapidated mansion that's no less a character than the duo themselves in beautiful monochrome images deftly captured by Arthur Reinhart's high-def digital cinematography.

Production company: Kid Film

Cast: Danuta Szaflarska, Krzystztof Globisz, Patrycja Szewczyk, Karil Bitau, Robert Tomaszewski.
Screenwriter/director: Dorota Kedzierzawska.
Producer: Arthur Reinhart, Piotr Miklaszewski, Wojciech Maryanski.
Director of photography: Arthur Reinhart.
Production designer: Albina Baranska, Arthur Reinhart.
Music: Wlodek Pawlik.
Costume designer: Katarzyna Morawska.
Editors: Dorota Kedzierzawska, Arthur Reinhart.
Sales Agent: Kid Film, Warsaw
No rating, 109 minutes.