Polish Cinema: Salto (Tadeusz Konwicki, 1965, Poland)

Salto is an intriguing albeit challenging film from director and author Tadeusz Konwicki. Despite its placement squarely within the Polish New Wave, the film abandons the realism of the films of Wajda and instead takes an elliptical and surreal approach. As the person I was watching the film asked - “Is this a David Lynch film?” The film certainly has a Lynchian feel to it - all of the characters have an aggressive strangeness to them, and the dialogue often doesn’t make sense. Kafka is a clear influence for Konwicki here.
The legendary James Dean of Poland - Zbigniew Cybulski - plays the title character - alternately called Kowalski or Malinowski depending on who is he talking to. The character he is playing - wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses - is clearly a reference to the same character he played in Wajda’s Ashes in Diamonds. We meet him firstly when he jumps off a moving train and enters a town. Kowalski/Mallinowski claims to have lived in this town before the war, but from very early on it is ambiguous as to whether he is telling the truth. He takes up residence in a house where he claims he used to live, although the current owner doesn’t seem to remember him.
The rest of the film could be described as a series of confrontations, in which Kowalski/Malinowski manifests as either a mystical figure or a charlatan. Konwicki is clearly playing with wartime memory - are any of these characters real? Are they archetypes? Are they the ghosts of a massacred village? The film culminates in a fantastic ballroom dancing scene, where Kowalski/Malinowski leads the townspeople in the titular “Salto” dance.

Kowalski/Malinowski’s perpetual anguish throughout the film grows a bit tiresome over time, and the film itself often leaves various threads unresolved. Still, Salto is worth watching if only for its somber and dreamlike mood.

7/10

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