PROVINCIAL ACTORS (Agnieszka Holland, 1978)

Among Poland’s most brilliant films, Agnieszka Holland’s Aktorzy prowincjonalni revolves around a provincial theatrical troupe outside Warsaw. They’re rehearsing something called Liberation. The play is historical (“. . . 100 years in fetters”), but it reflects the Communist state of Poland. It is a dark tragicomedy that early on gives us the possible suicide of a cat and, later, has an elderly man right before he also falls, or jumps, to his death from an apartment building window describe Poland as “a country in which anyone can insult an old man.” He could not secure help for an assault by a dog inside a café because the police official he approached sided with the dog owner, a personal friend. Someone remarks, “Our future is written in nothingness.” Is he speaking about the theater company or Poland? Since one represents the other, it doesn’t matter which.
     Krzysztof Malewski and Anka Malewska’s ten-year marriage is falling apart as Krzysz locks horns with the visiting director who aims to avoid controversy and whose concern about the play’s length finds Krzysz’s role, while remaining the leading one, losing lines and scenes. Meanwhile, Anka has lost all standing in the troupe. Krzysz hasn’t noticed that Polish women have even more cause for anxiety than Polish men. A troupe member finds female employment reliant on male connections: “Do you think our actresses would get so many parts if their husbands weren’t directors and managers?” In a long scene between Anka and a school acquaintance, which is underlit (like numerous scenes) and punctuated by bursts of stressfully discordant music, the latter recalls how confident Anka had always seemed. We see that that confidence has evaporated.
     Two conflicting impulses drive Holland’s and co-author Witold Zatorski’s characters: the freedom of self-determination; security—freedom from constant worry, fear.


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