For her feature debut, Agnieszka Holland decided to turn the camera to the centuries old conflict between art and life, namely, how artistic conflicts on stage can trespass to the domestic life.
A small group of provincial actors decides to stage Liberation, a heavy, politically loaded play. Krzysztof Malewski (Tadeusz Huk), the troupe’s usual leading man, sees in this the opportunity to deliver the performance of a lifetime. Only Slawomir (Tomasz Zigadlo) the group’s young director that just arrived from the city, couldn’t care less about Krzysztof’s ambitions, and does not deviate from his usual work process – cutting lines that can be seen as too complicated or ambiguous, plenty of rest between little work sessions, and throw in some symbols and intellectualized costumes for good measure. Krzysztof is mocked by his fellow actors because of his commitment to the work, and even his wife Anka (Halina Labornaska) does not seem to understand why is he taking such a triviality so seriously. Anka does have her own problems; a fading actress making do working in a puppet theatre, it’s hard not to feel useless while forced to socialize with the rest of the husband’s troupe. The marriage is in shambles, both partners have fantasies of murder and suicide and while all this happens, the rehearsals go on.
Some dare to call Provincial Actors a dark comedy, but we don’t want to go that far. Yes, the rehearsing scenes have hilarious moments, mostly satirical of Krzysztof’s high artistic intents and his bouncing from the bored, matter-of-fact attitude (“vision”, they call it) from the director and management. Art is seventies Poland is seen and presented as just one more skilled work, and actors should not demand any kind of enlightenment or epiphany from their work. Even if the play in question follows the official ideological lines, it can still be dangerous to believe too much into the lines of a poet, and even more dangerous to fight for them.
If you’re not afraid of terribly gloomy films and have an interest in backstage films, you’ll enjoy Provincial Actors greatly. Holland’s superb sense of staging and performance directing, which only grew better as years went by, is already present, and delivers a satisfying, though slightly too site and time specific, film.
Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema is part of Kinoteka 2015, which is happening in several London venues until the 29th May. For more information, and program, please go to http://kinoteka.org.uk/martin-scorsese-masterpieces-polish-cinema/