To Kill This Love (Trzeba zabić tę miłość) (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival/Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) Review
Poland, the early 1970s. Magda (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak) and Andrzej (Andrzej Malec) are young and in love. Falling short by a few points for University entrance, Magda works as a hospital orderly so that she can go to medical school in a year's time, while Andrzej gets a job at a repair shop while revising for entrance examinations for technical college. Unable to afford the rent for an apartment, Magda lives with her father (Janusz Bylczyński) and his much younger girlfriend Dzidzia (Alicja Jachiewicz) and is uneasy about it. But what Andrzej does so that he and Magda can live and have a future together, crosses a line...
Janusz Morgenstern (1922-2011) is not one of the best-known Polish directors of the Sixties and Seventies outside his native country. In fact, just one of his films has had a UK release: Goodbye, See You Tomorrow (Do widzenia, do jutra) made in 1960, had a UK cinema release in 1967 as See You Tomorrow, and was released on DVD by Second Run in 2012, reviewed for this site by Clydefro Jones here. On the evidence of that and the present film, Morgenstern should be better known than he is.
Goodbye, See You Tomorrow showed a definite affinity for young adults in Poland and, twelve years on, so does To Kill This Love (Trzeba zabić tę miłość) (which the screener subtitled as This Love Must Be Killed). Things have changed in a dozen years, and not just because we're in colour rather than black and white. If you're used to the jazz or orchestral scores of many of these Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, the blast of powerchords during the opening credits will make you immediately sit up and take notice.
To Kill This Love depicts a love story torn apart by social and other pressures, and not for nothing does a subplot involve the staging of a production of Romeo and Juliet. The film was officially criticised for its "pessimism" which restricted its release. It may also have affected Morgenstern's career as he didn't direct another cinema feature for nine years and only two more after that, working otherwise on television. At times To Kill This Love resembles the work of Nicolas Roeg, with its use of associational cross-cutting in time as well as in space, with quick edits which turn out to be flashforwards. Morgenstern interleaves his story with a parallel plot involving a man with a dog on a building site, clearly meant symbolically.
If technically To Kill This Love is adventurous and often dazzling, it's anchored in a very fine performance from Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak. Like the director, she's known outside Poland for just one film, made in Hungary: Another Way, which won her the Best Actress Prize at Cannes. She captures perfectly the sense of a young person, just out of teenage, struggling to establish a future for herself, not entirely confortable with living with her father who has a girlfriend around her own age, and not always getting back from her relationship with Andrzej what she puts into it. This was her first film, made at the age of twenty-one: she continues to act to this day. Andrzej Malec is good in his role but simply isn't in the same league. It's her story rather than his, and it's right that the ending, which brings both the main plot and the parallel plot together, centres on Magda rather than Andrzej.
To Kill This Love didn't get a UK cinema release, so you have to wonder how many opportunities British audiences would have had to see this film before now. That's a pity as it's a very impressive piece of work.
To Kill This Love is showing on 26 and 29 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 19 May.