Sunday, 20 January 2008

Interrogation (1982, Poland, Ryszard Bugajski)

Set in early 1950s Poland, this account of the ruthlessness and barbarism of the Polish secret police was famously banned upon production, which coincided with the introduction of martial law. Whilst it may have been set in the past, a number of parallels would become obvious. Despite being suppressed, the director was able to smuggle the film out of the country, and it was even shown domestically on video. It's been said that the authorities simply overlooked the political content of the film by mistake - it's certainly unthinkable that anything so unflinchingly critical of the Communist regime at any period might have been permitted.

Tonia (Krystyna Janda), a cabaret singer goes drinking with two 'admirers' to spite her husband after she suspects him of cheating with her best friend. These men are of course part of the secret police, who then imprison. When she learns where she is, she assumes it is a bureaucratic mistake - that they simply have the wrong person and that the error will be rectified. She has no idea why she has been arrested or what she is supposed to have done. As one of her fellow prisoners says "they don't make mistakes" and she encourages her to plead guilty to whatever she is accused of to make life easier. Refusing to, the authorities try to break her, forcing Tonia undergoes a systematically brutal series of interrogations. She has coffee thrown at her, forced to strip, given cold baths (that is sprayed with cold water until she collapses), and sees a man shot dead in front of her as a threat of what might happen should she not co-operate. Despite both physically and mentally disintegrating, Tonia maintains an innder strength and refuses to tell them what they want to hear. She knows it involves General Olcha, a man she had an affair with, who has been spying for the West, but she maintains she has no involvement.

Interrogation is an incredibly difficult film to watch - to get through it you need to be able to withstand a series of increasingly brutal methods of torture. The success of the film rests on the staggering central performance of Janda, who was recognised with the best actress award at Cannes in 1990, when the first was finally released. Appearing before us originally as a flighty woman of simple pleasures, she acquires a steely resolve in the face of all that is thrown at her - a staggering transformation. Interrogation fits in well with the work of the movement known as "the films of moral anxiety", which includes work like Man of Marble and Man of Iron (Andrzej Wajda - exectuive producer here) and the early work of Krzysztof Kieslowski, which also coincided with the rise of Solidarity, which sought to awaken social consciousness and represent the truth of life in Poland under Communism. Unflinching, but important, another superb release by Second Run. 4/5

No comments: