Polish Cinema: Zemsta (Andrzej Wajda, 2002, Poland)

               Riding on a wave of adaptations of great Polish literature which swept Polish cinema in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and generated lots of box office revenue from school trips to the cinemas – Andrzej Wajda’s Zemsta (The Revenge) is a lesser entry in the master’s oeuvre. Still, the film has its charms. The film is perhaps best known as the last significant acting role of Wajda’s former protégé Roman Polanski. His energetic role as the braggadocious courtier Papkin was the first major role he had since starring in his own The Tenant in 1976, and his first role in his native Polish since 1961.
               Zemsta is a faithful and direct adaptation of the Polish comedy by romantic poet and playwright Aleksander Fredro. Fredro’s play has echoes of Shakespeare and Moliere, albeit with a distinctly Polish setting. The characters are clearly meant to be archetypal figures of the different classes of Polish society, and the feud between the old soldier and the notary – neighbors on two sides of a castle – is clearly meant to represent the folly and internal squabbles which led to the partitions of Poland. That said, the events of the film are generally accessible, and many of the themes – largely based around false appearances – will resonate with any audience in any era.
               Unfortunately, much of the dialogue is lost in the English subtitles, although the charm of its rhyming and musicality is felt. The film suffers a bit from too much theatricality, and at times feels too creaky and wooden. While Zemsta is fun in moments, on the whole it tends to drag. Still, the performances from many greats of Polish cinema – including Andrzej Seweryn as the notary and Polanski himself as Papkin – make it worth a watch. However, Zemsta would have to rank among my least favorite Wajda films.  



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