Jump (Salto) (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival/Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) Review
A young man (Zbigniew Cybulski) jumps off a moving train and find his way to a small town where he says he grew up, though no one recognises him. His presence starts to have an effect on the villagers...
Tadeusz Konwicki (1926-2015) was a novelist as well as a film writer/director. He is represented in the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema by not just the present film but also his earlier feature The Last Day of Summer (to be reviewed soon) and from his writing credits on Mother Joan of the Angels (Second Run's DVD reviewed by Anthony Nield here) and Pharoah (which I will be reviewing shortly), both in collaboration with those films' director Jerzy Kawalerowicz. One of his novels, A Minor Apocalypse was filmed in 1993 as The Little Apocalypse, directed by Costa-Gavras.
Salto (subtitled as Jump in the screener I watched, but sometimes known in English as Somersault) was made in 1965. It's a puzzling, ambiguous, Kafkaesque film, with nothing quite as it seems. The young man's identity is in question: at times he gives his name as Kowalski and at others Malinowski (subtitled as "Smith" and "Jones", so simply generic names). At times he seems messianic (he cures two sick children) and at others hapless. Three times during the film he has a nightmare of three sinister approaching men, one shining a torch into his eyes (that is, the camera) and bearing submachine guns. The man's presence in the village stirs up old feelings hidden up to now, such as a man (Wlodzimierz Boruński) hidden during the war because he resembles a now-dead Jewish actor, even though he is not himself Jewish. A widow (Irena Laskowska, lead of The Last Day of Summer) passes her time telling people's fortunes. Meanwhile, Kowalski/Malinowski pursues the daughter (Marta Lipińska) of the man (Gustaw Holoubek) at whose house he is staying, a man thought of as good but who yearns to be bad.
There's much to unpick here, and no doubt allegorical references which may pass non-Poles by. (This review is based on two viewings: I hadn't seen the film before now.) However, there's plenty to compensate, not least a strong lead performance from Zbigniew Cybulski, one often thought of as his best. What is without doubt is the film's technical inventiveness. The nightmare scenes are shot with anamorphic lenses and printed "squeezed" in this otherwise spherically-shot Academy Ratio film, a device used around the same time by Samuel Fuller for dream scenes in Shock Corridor and, much later, by Spike Lee for an extended sequence in Crooklyn. Kurt Weber's black-and-white cinematography is fine. Wojciech Kilar's score is confined to a piano piece over the opening credits and diegetic band music we hear in the film. I say diegetic, but Konwicki manipulates the soundtrack. The film appears to have been postsynched and in one key sequence (Kowalski/Malinowski leading the village band) all ambient sound drops out leaving just the music. The nightmare sequences have sound effects only, with mute dialogue.
Unlike The Last Day of Summer, Jump did not get a UK cinema release. If it had had one at the time, it might have preceded Blowup in containing full-frontal nudity (brief, female, in long shot) passed by the BBFC. I can trace no TV showings, so previous opportunities to see it in the UK would have been limited to possible festivals and one-off showings. It's a very singular film, unlike much else I've seen from Poland at the time.
Jump is showing on 25 and 28 April at the BFI Southbank, London, as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand of the 13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. It is also showing at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 25 April and 12 May.