Polish Cinema: Matthew's Days (Witold Leszczynski, 1968, Poland)

The striking and expertly-composed debut feature from director Witold Leszczynski, Matthew’s Days is an adaptation of Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas’s 1957 novel The Birds. The film seems to be largely unseen even in its native Poland. Even at the time of its release, Matthew’s Days was beset by bad luck. The film was scheduled to premiere in competition at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, until that festival was called off due to the protests in France. Given the year of its release - and the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll associated with that year - Matthew’s Days feels remarkably timeless. The film concerns Mateusz, a mentally challenged man who lives with his sister Olga on a lake in a remote village in Poland.
Mateusz, played with great sensitivity by Franciczek Pieczka, expresses a childlike wonder and awe at the world around him. He becomes obsessed with natural phenomenon, such as a bird he sees while boating on the lake. He has fantasies about women, but when he comes across an attractive pair of girls while on a boat excursion, he is afraid to even look at them. In contrast to other directors of the time, Leszczynski adopts a tone of magical realism. He consistently frames Mateusz in relation to the natural world surrounding him, in beautiful and breathtaking wide shots of the lake, trees, and other settings. Even in relation to his home, Leszczynski and his cinematography adopt a deep precision and economy, framing the characters in tableau - often accompanied by the music of baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli.
There is also a disturbing melancholy and harshness to Matthew’s Days. Mateusz expresses concerns about a coming storm, which is hard to not read into metaphorically. He is also deeply concerned about the fate of his sister, Olga. When Olga becomes involved with a local lumberjack, Mateusz becomes deeply jealous of the lumberjack, and things end tragically. 



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