Polish Cinema: Hospital of the Transfiguration (Edward Zebrowski, 1979, Poland)


Hospital of the Transfiguration - Edward Zebrowski
Hospital of the Transfiguration is a 1979 film based on a novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. The book was finished in 1948, part of a socialist realist trilogy titled Time Not Lost. The book series has a scattered publication history, as it often met resistance from censors. Director of the film Edward Zebrowski is perhaps best known for collaborating on the scenario of Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, although he directed a number of films, mostly for television. While I haven’t read the novel, Zebrowski’s film – released 4 years after the wildly successful One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – is effectively a Polish response to that film. Like Milos Forman’s film, Hospital deals with similar themes – the neglect and inhumane treatment of mental patients, the fight of the individual against the corrupt system. Zebrowski’s film is distinguished from Forman’s in its WWII setting. I’m not sure if it is the first instance, but certainly this is one of the first films to depict the Nazis’ genocide against the mentally ill in a very explicit way. For that alone it is worthy of an examination by film scholars.

                While one reviewer on IMDb complains that the film is “dull”, in general the pacing seemed fine to me. Perhaps the main weakness in the film comes at the level of characterization – the characters are more stereotypes than humans. The film’s finale is also expected, but comes with a great deal of force, as Zebrowski shifts the film from color to black and white. The image of our protagonist Stefan (played by Piotr Dejmek) trying to rescue a patient, carrying him into the woods, while pursued by Nazis, is a profound one. Piotr Dejmek plays the role of the optimistic Stefan well, trying to be a force for good in a doomed and corrupt system.


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