Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema which runs from February 5th to 16th. For more information on this film series visit filmlinc.com and follow The Film Society of Lincoln Center on Twitter @FilmLinc.
“The Man Who Fled to Earth” might be a suitable secondary title for Jump, Tadeusz Konwicki’s sophomore film in the directorial seat, a film far more conventional in the realm of screen storytelling than his poetically-pitched debut The Last Day of Summer (1958). Though that shouldn’t be taken to suggest that this is by any means a straightforward effort; Konwicki is a master of melding dream and reality, fusing fact and fantasy within the framework of his own fictionality in a manner that’s nothing if not self-reflexively mindful of its own meaning. That, much more patently than in the earlier film, is the war, a recurring concern of Konwicki that finds fascinating, if intermittently frustrating, examination here.
Perspective is paramount, as Konwicki’s determined breach of the fourth wall reminds us, whether by the supporting cast’s stares or one exceptional shot of Kowalski holding his glasses to the camera as though to allow us to peer through them.
“What a war,” sighs the so-called Kowalski after arriving in the small town in which the movie takes place, having leapt from a moving train into one of its many agrarian fields. Were it not for his cool charisma and handsome face—perpetually sporting sunglasses, even to sleep—we might be content to dismiss him as a drifter. But there is something strange, even sinister in an engaging sort of way, about this mysterious man; as played by Zbigniew Cybulski, spouting half-convincing lines of a life left behind, he has a touch of Bowie’s alien visitor, though it’s heroism rather than humanity that he may be lacking. “I suffer for others,” he tells the host who takes him in, before thinking the better of it. “No no, it’s not true…”
Just what is true is up for debate, not only in Kowalski’s self-aggrandising story but in the movie’s own aesthetic: initially differentiating distinctly in his shooting styles, Konwicki gradually downplays the anamorphic oddity of his dream sequences to a point where it’s arguable that anything might be unreal. Perspective is paramount, as Konwicki’s determined breach of the fourth wall reminds us, whether by the supporting cast’s stares or one exceptional shot of Kowalski holding his glasses to the camera as though to allow us to peer through them. Would that we could look through his eyes; he is an engrossing enigma of a man, patently a fraud yet perhaps all the more compelling for it, plainly not who he claims and thus all the more of a mystery.
It’s not solely for his similarities to one of that film’s most ethereal entities that Kowalski’s story plays out like an alternate angle on Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)—high praise if ever there was. There is the town and its people, all fickle and feeble; there is talk of impending cosmic chaos, of the sky turning to black; there is the word of prophets and peasants and political strife; there is, strikingly, the pseudo-surrealistic sequence of drunken dancing. All—as in Tarr’s film, surely influenced by this—amounts to an almost eerie oddity, an inexplicable irregularity in the air that lends weight to every whispered word, and stature to every stray soul who emerges out of the past into the life of this town.
It is its spiritual ambiguity and its pronounced social setting that combine to make Jump at once a more complete experience than The Last Day of Summer and yet somehow also a less satisfying one.
It is its spiritual ambiguity and its pronounced social setting that combine to make Jump at once a more complete experience than The Last Day of Summer and yet somehow also a less satisfying one. For all Konwicki’s capable camerawork and the intensity of uncertainty with which he mounts his scenes, his air of oddity when tethered to such specificities is simply less arresting than when allowed to unfold in an ephemeral film. It is a different kind of conclusion for which Konwicki aims, though, a more simple and necessarily less stimulating one, yet perhaps with it a sharper one too. For as much as The Last Day of Summer might have led us to dwell on Poland’s future while haunted by its past, Jump places us explicitly there, made to experience rather than imagine.
[notification type=”star”]77/100 ~ GOOD. Jump plays out like an alternate angle on Werckmeister Harmonies—high praise if ever there was.[/notification]