Polish Cinema: Bad Luck (Andrzej Munk, 1960, Poland)

  Andrzej Munk had a remarkably prodigious output in his tragically short career. His films Man on the Tracks (1957), Eroica (1958), and Passenger (1963) are among the classics of the Polish New Wave, although for whatever reason he is not acknowledged internationally on the same level as Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski. Bogumil Kobiela, another figure in Polish cinema whose career was cut tragically short, stars in Bad Luck - a hidden gem in Munk's filmography. With his boyish face and deer-in-headlights expression, Kobiela was perfectly cast as our protagonist Jan Piszczyk, a Polish everyman who wanders his way through 40 years of Polish history.

The film is told in a series of flashback vignettes from the present day, and begins in 1919 on the eve of the Polish-Lithuanian war. Piszczyk begins trying to court an attractive young student, but he is quickly banned from her household after he gets caught up in a proto-fascist rally and beaten by the police. Such misfortunes continue throughout the film - for example, he tries to get into the military academy, but the war breaks out the next day.

Munk is clearly interested in the dislocations of Polish life in the early half of the twentieth century, and Piszczyk's existence is likely not much different than many other Poles of this era. Munk is of course critical of Piszczyk - he is a figure who is driven purely by self-interest, and we see this very evidently once he transforms into a Stalinist bureaucrat. While the subject matter is grim, the film is told as a farce. There are particularly funny scenes, such as when Piszczyk is running through a field of cabbages while being bombed by the Germans. Kobiela translates the physical humor quite well, and his moral degeneration as a character is even manifested physically in the finale through his rotten teeth.


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