The Wedding (Wesele) (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival/Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) Review

Poland, at the turn of the twentieth century. In a small village near Kraków, a young poet (Daniel Olbrychski) marries a village girl (Ewa Ziętek). Everyone is invited to the party, including leading artists, a local journalist (Wojeciech Pszoniak)...and a mysterious young woman called Rachel (Maja Komorowska) who soon intrigues the groom. Meanwhile, military forces are gathering at the borders with Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire.

Stanisław Wyspiański's play Wesele from 1901 has classic status in Poland, and has been taught in schools there. More than most of the twenty-four Masterpieces of Polish Cinema in this season, Andrzej Wajda's 1972 film (not to be mistaken for Wojtek Smarzowski's 2004 film of the same title, nor indeed Robert Altman's 1978 film A Wedding) relies on a knowledge if not of its source text but of specific cultural and historical references for its full appreciation. However, its film craft is self-evident, and unlike some of the other Masterpieces it did receive a UK cinema release. However, compared to the four other films Wajda is represented by in this season (Ashes and Diamonds, Innocent Sorcerers, The Promised Land and Man of Iron) it's fair to say it has a lower profile outside its home country. There is a possibly apocryphal story that, at a film festival, Elia Kazan asked Wajda where he had found such a wonderful scriptwriter, no doubt unaware of the play.

The film begins as a piece of historical realism, an ensemble piece sketching in various characters at the wedding celebrations, captured by a highly mobile and at times quite possibly handheld camera, as singing and dancing and merrymaking continue into the evening and the night. However, just over halfway through, the film segues into allegorical fantasy (a dream play within the play, as the opening credits put it) as straw bundles come to life, guests see ghosts of loved ones and the groom is visited by figures representing Poland's military past and a mission for its future, with ironic results.

The Wedding is showing on 20 and 28 May at the BFI Southbank, London, and at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 21 May and 6 June, as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand of the 13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. The showing of 28 May at the BFI Southbank will be introduced by the film's director of photography, Witold Sobociński. A joint ticket is available with a conversation between Witold Sobociński and Piotr Sobociński Jr on the same evening.


Andrzej Wajda's 1972 film of the classic Polish play, mixing historical realism with fantasy, plays as part of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema season.


out of 10

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