Cast: Franciszek Pieczka, Wojciech Pszoniak, Jan Szurmiej
Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Genre: Drama | War
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema which ran 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.
Austeria (The Inn) is director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s adaptation of the 1966 novel by Julian Stryjkowski. It’s a dramatic comedy set in the early days of the first world war and it’s tone, not surprisingly, is rather austere.
The film’s plot is a loose construction of events surrounding a Polish Inn in the Galicia district that is nestled on the Austro-Hungarian border. World War One has broken out and citizens from neighbouring townships and villages are being forced to leave home and seek shelter and safety. In the midst of all this we join Innkeeper Tag (Franciszek Pieczka). Tag refuses to leave his property and instead he runs his Inn in a business as usual manner. He takes in a group of Hasidic Jews, a Hungarian officer who has been cut off from his unit, and a revered Hasidic Rabbi. This unlikely group of strangers are forced to spend a night together while waiting and hoping that the advancing Cossack army will pass them by. Throughout the course of the film we see that Tag is a devoutly suffering Jew who feels that he is forever cursed to despair, but at the same time he manages to get quite a bit of satisfaction out of sleeping with his attractive, and much younger, stable hand. A lot of political and religious bickering occurs and the group must also deal with a dead actress, who was shot by the Cossacks while running away from her sexually aggressive boyfriend, Bum.
Everything rings true and feels genuine. It’s as though we are actually with these characters in 1914.
The film is beautifully shot and the performances are fantastic, however, it was difficult to get through the rather obtuse tone of the film. It was meant to be comedic in a lot of ways, and that is evident through the dialogue and the situations, however the sombre and depressing tone of the film makes it difficult to actually laugh. There’s a sort of lackadaisically frenetic energy running through the film. While all of the characters are clearly in a panicked state about the fate of their country, they still seem to drag their feet through the minutiae of the day.
The film is to praised for its historicism and its sense of reality. At no point are we taken out of the story or the setting. Everything rings true and feels genuine. It’s as though we are actually with these characters in 1914. The cinematography is gorgeous and the score is period based and emotionally appropriate to all of the scenes. At no point does the audience feel that they are being manipulated into a certain emotional state by the score.
The film feels authentic and it manages to somehow feel incredibly important even though it is meant as a comedy.
Another win for the film is that it never takes a judgmental stance on any of the characters. Even when we see the amount of sexuality on display, Tag and his young mistress meeting in barns for quick love making sessions, the Hungarian officer taking the old Baroness out back for a quickie, or Bum and his girlfriend Asia literally having a roll in the hay. All of these are tackled with genuine emotional intelligence. These are real people and this is what real people do.
The film feels authentic and it manages to somehow feel incredibly important even though it is meant as a comedy. Sadly the tonal disparity between the content and the presentation left a sour note. Because of the gravity given to each performance and each shot, the light heartedness of the dialogue doesn’t always come through. This is a beautiful film to watch but uneven in a lot of ways.
[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. This is a beautiful film to watch but uneven in a lot of ways.[/notification]