Krzysztof Zanussi’s autobiographical Cwal centers on Hubert, a young teenager in the country. When his father defects to the West, Hubert’s mother is summoned to an interrogation. The familiar way this scene would be shot would have the pair anxiously waiting for their turn to enter the Party official’s office. Zanussi upsets our expectation. Someone else, his face bloodied, sits briefly outside the office on a bench before being forcibly led away; mother and son already, we see, are inside the office. This film will be full of recollected detail, but it won’t be sentimental; the stroke of objectivity that Zanussi achieves with this brutalized stranger foretells why Hubert’s mother arranges to hide her son, sending him to live with his Aunt Ida in Warsaw. “He doesn’t care for Poland anymore,” the Communist says, referring to Hubert’s father. “He fought for Poland,” the woman counters. “Yes,” the official notes, “but not for our Poland.”
Hubert and his aunt share a love of horses and of riding. One day their riding group is assaulted by boys with stones. “Bolshevik scum!” she calls out—regrettably in official earshot. Later she chides herself: “Why did I say that? Landowners ride horses, too.” Ida’s ability to manipulate authorities into believing she is compliant will now be complicated by her need to protect her nephew at all cost.
I have been slow to realize how fine a film this is, perhaps because I tend to recoil at bourgeoisism. Who cares whether Ida can have access to horses and can openly ride? But one is entitled to one’s harmless, trivial pleasures. Freedom is valuable not just when it is writ large. This robust person is entitled to be herself. Maja Komorowska (best actress, Polish Film Festival) gives an extraordinary performance.
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