Polish Cinema: An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was God (Jerzy Hoffman, 2003, Poland)

    Jerzy Hoffman followed the successful 1999 Sienkiewicz adaptation With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem) with 2003’s An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God (Stara baśń: Kiedy słońce było bogiem). Coming on the heels of 2000’s Gladiator and other historical epics, An Ancient Tale lacks the technical slickness of its American counterparts. It would be easy to mistake it for a film shot in the 1980s, if not for the use of CGI - so poor it must have appeared dated even when the film was released in 2003. That being said, the film has its charms - albeit of the kitschy variety. 
    The film tells the story of the cruel prince Popiel - played by veteran Ukrainian actor Bogdan Stupka - who commits crimes to ensure his land will be passed onto his son. The commander of his army escapes and forms a coalition to revolt against Popiel. A hunter by the name of Ziemowit comes to his aid. In the meantime, Ziemowit falls in love with a local merchant’s daughter - played by Russian actress Marina Aleksandrova. The plot can be quite confusing at times, with characters changing from friends to enemies - often laughably - in a single scene.
    At its worst, An Ancient Tale feels cheesy and amateurish. With few exceptions, the performances are overblown and uneven. The film perhaps succeeds the most when it takes its Monty Pythonism to the limit in a final battle between the commander's band and some Vikings. There are some genuinely fun moments, however, such as a sexy pagan dancing ritual, and the final battle of the film which is over-the-top in the best way possible. That being said, An Ancient Tale is only likely to be of interest to fans of Polish cinema or foreign-language historical epics.



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