Polish Cinema: The Big Animal (Jerzy Stuhr, 2000, Poland)

The Big Animal is legendary Polish actor Jerzy Stuhr’s fourth film as a director. Stuhr often collaborated with the great director Krzysztof Kieslowski, and this film is an adaptation of a screenplay by Kieslowski (who passed away in 1996). The film tells the story of Zygmunt Sawicki (Jerzy Stuhr), who finds a camel in his provincial Polish village and decides to adopt the animal. This sets off a number of different events. Notably, the film draws an immediate comparison to Au Hasard Balthazar, Bresson’s film about a donkey who is passed to various owners who treat him poorly. However, in this case, Zygmunt treats the camel as a friend and is defending him from a hostile community.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white by the great cinematographer Pawel Edelman, who captures the atmosphere and beauty of the small town. Certain shots, such as Zygmunt and his wife Marysia (Anna Dymna) eating dinner together while the camel also eats from the window, have a beautiful and painterly quality. The music by Abel Korniowski is evocative and adds to the fable-like feeling of the story.

While billed in some instances as a comedy, The Big Animal is not for those who are easily depressed. Everyone in the town wants to take advantage of the camel – from the bureaucrats who want to charge a “horse tax” on the animal, to the local mayor who wants to use the camel to create a local tourist attraction. Needless to the say, the camel does not meet a good end. That being said, there are darkly humorous moments in the film, mainly reflecting the absurdity of the local bureaucracy. The fable-like nature of the film might be a bit too broad for some, but the film is short, simple, and beautiful. Recommended for fans of Kieslowski and Polish cinema.


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