Polish Cinema: The Quack (Jerzy Hoffman, 1982, Poland)

Still from Jerzy Hoffman's The Quack (1982).

Znachor or The Quack is the second adaptation of Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz's 1937 novel - the first was released in the year of the novel's publication. Dołęga-Mostowicz is most known in the English-speaking world for being the supposed source of Jerzy Kosinski's novel Being There. This adaptation comes from Jerzy Hoffman, who is most known for his epic historical adaptations of the novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz. The Quack is much smaller in scope than those films, and feels more personal to the director. The plot is rather simple on its surface. After his wife leaves him, a successful surgeon goes out for drinks, gets robbed and beaten, and loses his memory. He ends up working at a farm under a different name, and over time his memories of medicine return. He becomes the local village healer, which gets him into trouble with the local doctor.

 Jerzy Bińczycki plays our titular "quack" with a great sense of pathos. While the story is melodramatic, he keeps the film grounded in a sense of reality. He is supported by a great cast including the beautiful Anna Dymna as his estranged daughter Maria with whom he is later reunited, and Tomasz Stockinger as her upper class lover Leszek. The film does a good job of exploring class dynamics, especially as it pertains to romance, in early 20th Century Poland.

 On a broader level, The Quack is a moving examination of the conflict between science and reason, the institutions of power and the individual. Undoubtedly this exploration of a man rediscovering his inner talents in the face of losing everything held significance for the Polish audience at the dawn of the bleak 1980s - perhaps moreso than it did in the pre-war adaptation. The film also features great cinematography which captures the atmosphere of small town life during the time period.


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