Foreign Body (Obce ciało) (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review
Italian Angelo (Riccardo Leonelli) and Polish Katarzyna or Kasia (Agata Buzek) fall in love, but she calls a halt to it when she returns to Poland to enter a convent. Angelo tries to make her change her mind. Meanwhile, at the Warsaw energy company he works for, his cynical boss Kris (Agnieszka Grochowska) is both intrigued and challenged by Angelo's religiously-based moral principles and tries to make him break them...
Krzysztof Zanussi is showcased at this year's Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, with three of his past works (The Illumination, Camouflage and The Constant Factor) among the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand and this, his newest film, in the New Polish Cinema strand. Unfortunately, while well enough made and watchable for the nearly two hours it's on, Foreign Body (Obce ciało) is a disappointment.
A Polish/Russian/Italian co-production with dialogue in those three languages and English, it feels undercooked and in fact subverts itself. Given that we've recently had a very good Polish film about a woman's crisis of identity and especially religious identity (Ida), Foreign Body suffers in comparison: Kasia's story is underwritten and she's not on screen enough for it to have much impact. As the protagonist, Angelo comes across as priggish and the simple fact that he and Kasia are far less interesting than the film's nominal villain, Kris. Zanussi seems to have realised this as she's given more screentime especially in the first half, and he also ends the film on a close-up of her. This is down to Agnieszka Grochowska as much as anything, as the character as written really doesn't hold together very well: cynical, not above being manipulative sexually to both men and women and rather melodramatically given a scene where she hires men so that she can beat them with a riding crop. She's also given some extraneous baggage in a subplot involving her dying adoptive mother, a former war criminal. That riding-crop scene is not the only jarring change of tone for what is basically a comedy-drama. Even more so is a scene depicting a prison assault. Zanussi has had a long and distinguished career, but Foreign Body is far from his finest moment.
Foreign Body is showing on 12 April at the ICA, London, at 7.50pm as part of the New Polish Cinema strand of the 13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. The showing will be followed by a Q& A with Krzysztof Zanussi. A UK commercial release is to be advised.