Polish Cinema: Pan Tadeusz (Andrzej Wajda, 1999, Poland/France)

Arriving in tandem with Jerzy Hoffman’s Of Fire and Sword, Andrzej Wajda’s 1999 adaptation of Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem Pan Tadeusz represented a renaissance of grand scale Polish filmmaking. Both films were immensely successful, accounting for the first instance of the domination of the Polish box office by local productions. This would lead to a trend in epic adaptations of Polish classics, including Wajda’s own Zemsta. Pan Tadeusz did not translate with foreign audiences, and the reason is clear upon viewing. While the film has its merits, it is perhaps best viewed as an accompaniment to Mickiewicz’s source text.
With Mickiewicz relaying the tale in narration from a Parisian salon, the film tells the story of two feuding families in 1810s Poland - the Soplicas and the Horeszkos. The Soplicas took advantage of the partitions of the 1790s to take over the castle of the Horeszkos, and now the rightful owner of the castle - Count Hereszko - has returned. Added to this historical backdrop is a Romeo and Juliet relationship between the titular Tadeusz Siplica and Zosia Horeszko. For those watching without Wikipedia on hand, the events and characters in the film can be a challenge to keep in order. 
Nevertheless, the film moves at a jaunty enough pace (despite a running time of two and a half hours!), and the beautiful pastoral cinematography of Pawel Edelman and evocative score by Wojciech Kilar make the film a generally pleasurable watch. It is still hard to feel a genuine connection to any of the characters, but perhaps this is due to Wajda’s choice to include the poetic verse from Mickiewicz’s original poem as the dialogue. While the poetic verse is beautiful to listen to, it is maybe not ideally suited to this cinematic adaptation. Overall, Pan Tadeusz is a flawed but interesting project.



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