Polish Cinema: Big Shar (Sylwester Checinski, 1983, Poland)

            Big Shar (Wielki szu) is an example of Polish commercial cinema of the 1980s in the vein of Vabank. The film was directed by Sylwester Checinski, who is most known for the great 1960s comedy Our Folks (Sami Swoi). Big Shar is a stylish crime drama that echoes Martin Scorsese’s Color of Money. It tells the story of a card con artist named Szu who returns to his wife after five years in prison. In a memorable opening scene, his wife sends him away. He then ends up in the small town of Lutyn where he befriends a young taxi driver. Szu then cheats a local oligarch out of some money and heads to Wroclaw. In the meantime, he befriends a prostitute.

           Throughout the film, Jan Nowicki trains the taxi driver in his ways of con artistry. However, it is clear early on that this won’t end very well for either of them. The film starts small in a provincial town and gradually expands to the big cities. The film shows a lifestyle many had probably not seen on film in Poland up until this point, including fancy hotels, dancers, and an almost Las Vegas-style atmosphere. This is amplified by the rocking synthesizer soundtrack by Andrzej Korzynski.

           Jan Nowicki is great in the role of Shar, conveying a world-weary cynicism and sense of the inevitability of fate. As his counterpart, the young Andrzej Pieczynski as the taxi driver conveys a naivete and youthful enthusiasm in contrast to Nowicki’s performance. Dorota Pomykala also has a strong turn in the film as Jola, the prostitute Shar befriends. The film’s bleak finale feels very Polish but is also fitting in the context of the film. Overall, Big Shar is a film worth seeking out for fans of Polish cinema and especially Polish cinema of the 1980s.


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