The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
In a remote, rural outpost, Jan, trained as a physicist, lives with ebullient wife Anna, a local schoolteacher, and functions as a statistical meteorologist—a scientific hack. A former colleague visits. Marek, an urbane researcher, is a scientific star who travels widely and drives a sports car. Marek chides Jan for wasted potential, withered ambition. But Marek fails to take into account “the structure of crystals”—internal forces that compel individual “choices.” Ironically, given his freer time, Jan, it turns out, has maintained the richer, more committed intellectual life. Jan reads, studies, thinks, while busy Marek laments how little spare time he has. Jan discusses the nature of infinity; Marek notes he saw Marina Vlady in a Chekhov play in Paris.
With Struktura krysztalu Krzysztof Zanussi brought a distinctive signature to cinema. The physicist and philosopher’s first feature weighs the disparate professional and personal lives of these two scientists in a Communist country, Poland, where a person’s contribution to society, from the national political perspective, trumps everything else. This is the film’s foundation, but there is no message-mongering. Yet no other film more forcefully conveys the situation. In truth, both scientists have been reduced to the state’s use of them.
Employing black-and-white bleakness, where snow projects aridity (with the couple’s childlessness, accentuated by the scores of children with whom Anna works, adding an almost subliminal note of poignancy), Zanussi pursues momentous themes with mathematical precision and deep irony. (En route to a nearby city, the couple shows Marek a desolate fertilizer factory; but we never see anything grow.) Molecular drawings somehow disclose Zanussi’s fascination with the human condition. Zanussi’s love of cinema is equally apparent. Standing in front of a framed wall mirror, Jan and Marek miraculously suggest a celebrated shot from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966).
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