Last night I sat on our sofa, watching this luminous, haunting film on my MacBook via NetFlix streaming. Occasionally, I would pause the movie to show my husband an image: "Look at the way he films their faces." "Look at the landscape." And sometimes, I would pause just to catch my breath. Truly, this is one of the loveliest, most heart-wrenching and beautiful of films.
The setting for the Oscar-worthy "A Year of the Quiet Sun" is Poland just after World War II. An American private, played by the dashing Scott Wilson, falls head over heels for a Polish war widow, whom he encounters as she paints in an abandoned car. Neither speaks the other's language and yet they manage to communicate and to fall in love
The film, which came out in 1984, is directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. I am an ocean of ignorance when it comes to Polish or other Eastern European cinema but the fact I'd never heard of this movie is no accident. Polish authorities would not allow it to be submitted to the Academy Awards for consideration because, Roger Ebert says, "the Polish government was boycotting the Oscars after a film by Andrzej Wajda, critical of the government, was entered. Zanussi, born 1939, no less critical of the communist regime and a strong supporter of the Solidarity movement, succeeded in making films because, as he explains with a quiet smile, "I was diplomatic."
The PG movie is not a standard boy-meets-girl flick. Instead, it leads us both gently and powerfully to some important questions. Is happiness reserved for a few? Can we find happiness in poverty and suffering and loss? The backdrop of the story, which is the aftereffect of the Holocaust and the brutality of war, is as much a character as are the private, the war widow, her ailing mother and the prostitute who lives next door. So much of this Polish-language movie happens without dialogue. We are moved as characters move across their personal and physical landscapes, and in the way they gesture to one another.
I learned about the movie on Facebook, from J., a CL friend from Brooklyn. Mr Zanussi will be appearing Saturday at the New York Encounter, speaking about his friendship with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I am so looking forward!