Polish Cinema: Colonel Wolodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969, Poland/Soviet Union)

Jerzy Hoffman's Colonel Wolodyjowski is a rollicking nationalist historical epic, the first in a number of Henryk Sienkiewicz adaptations the director has taken on throughout his multi-decade career. While the original novel, the final in Sienkiewicz's Trylogia, was written in 1888, the film adaptation arrived in 1969 - at  the end of a decade of relative stability and rising nationalist sentiment under Gomulka. The film, which tells the story of the fictional colonel Michal Wolodyjowski fighting off Turkish invaders (some of whom have infiltrated his own defenses), no doubt raised the suspicion of Soviet authorities at the time.

The great Tadeusz Lomnicki, most known to Western audiences for his roles in several Andrzej Wajda films, does a convincing job as the titular character, who is re-enlisted into the battle to defend Poland by the Sancho Panza-like figure of Zagloba (Mieczyslaw Pawlikowski). Some love affairs ensue between Michal and the women living with his sister, Krystina and Barbara. While the chemistry between Michal and these women is not so convincing, Barbarba in particular has a boyish charm. Her outfits, which feel more 1960s than 1660s, add to the film's kitschy factor. 

One of the more notable turns in the film comes from the great Daniel Olbrychski as Azja Tujah-Bejowicz, a seemingly loyal Tatar who turns out to be a traitor and attempted rapist. Olbrychski's portrayal is over-the-top, but it works, and his execution is one of the more memorable moments in the film. Overall, Colonel Wolodyjowski is rather brief as far as historical epics go, and is made more watchable by Jerzy Lipman's picturesque and evocative cinematography, as well as the impressive battle spectacles - particularly the final siege on the fortress. The infighting between Wolodyjowski's men and the Monsignor no doubt rang true to Polish viewers in 1969, as it would have to Sienkiewicz's readers in the 1880s. 


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