Austeria (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival/Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) Review
Based on Jerzy Stryjkowksi's novel, written by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Tadeusz Konwicki and the author, Austeria (which translates as The Inn) is set just after the start of World War I in Galicia. Tag (Franciszek Pieczka), a Jew, owns an inn close to the border with the Russian Empire. A number of local civilians fleeing the advancing Russian army have taken refuge in the inn, as well as a group of Hassidic Jews, a Hungarian soldier and an Austrian baroness...
In Austeria the emphasis is on the interactions between the various characters, arguments, courage in the face of adversity, and sexual attraction sparked by the danger they are in. That danger is not far away. One such incident occurs in a field, strikingly staged by Kawalerowicz as the sun comes out from a cloud, just at the moment of death, and there's a bitterly ironic ending. The film is an elegy for a vanished way of life, particularly for the Jews. It's not hard to see the story as a foreshadowing of much worse to come for them, later in the century. But it's life-affirming instead of despairing.
Kawalerowicz (1922-2007) is the most-represented director in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema season, with four titles, Night Train, Mother Joan of the Angels, Pharoah and Austeria, four quite diverse films. Austeria, unlike the previous three, did not receive a UK cinema release. He made his final film, a large-scale adaptation of another classic Polish novel with a historical setting, Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis? in 2001. Co-writer Konwicki (1926-2015) is represented by two films he directed, The Last Day of Summer and Jump.
Austeria is showing on 13 and 23 May at the BFI Southbank, London, as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand of the 13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, and at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 1 and 14 June.