Polish Cinema: The Structure of Crystal (Krzysztof Zanussi, 1969, Poland)

Krzysztof Zanussi’s debut feature The Structure of Crystal is an intimate portrait of two men’s friendship. The film concerns Janek and Marek. While Marek has become an academic superstar, studying crystallography in the United States, Janek has left academia to live in the countryside with his wife Anna and work as a weatherman. Marek stays with Janek under the pretense of a friendly visit, although he has been assigned to try to bring Janek back to academia and to Warsaw. The rest of the film follows the rhythm of Janek’s rural life in isolation, in a series of moments between Janek, Marek, and Anna.
Marek, worldly and materialistic, fails to see why Janek has chosen to withdraw from the world. He is convinced Janek is wasting his skills and talent on meaningless things, and that life needs a goal. “These are our best years… You have to do something”. Nevertheless, Marek seems enchanted by the childlike idyll of Jacek’s life. Some of the most charming scenes in these films involving these moments of childlike fun - riding a carriage, having arm wrestling contests, encountering a group of cows in the road, etc. The film asks many interesting questions, such as - do we owe it to anyone to make the most of our talents? Should we pursue our intellectual life to the fullest, even if it doesn’t yield great material or status success?
Something of a triangle develops, with Marek becoming attracted to Anna - perhaps for the simplicity she represents. Nothing comes to fruition however, and the film is quite subtle with regard to its tensions. There are no dramatic conflicts. In contrast to the thematically weighty films of Wajda, or the formally challenging films of Skolimowski from this time period, Zanussi brings a deeply low-key aesthetic. The gorgeous winter photography, coupled with Wojciech Kiler’s jazzy and melancholic score, makes The Structure of Crystal a relaxing watch. Zanussi’s film is an interesting examination of the ways our paths diverge in life.



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