PROVINCIAL ACTORS, Agnieszka Holland's first directorial effort, is an outstanding example of Polish cinema's often highly subtle intermingling of the personal and the political. Made in 1979 and released to US home video in 1995, the film uses sharp humor for covert political critique.
Ironically, while Poland's recent liberalization may have engendered artistic freedom, subtle films like this one have lost their raison d'etre.
In a provincial town near Lodz, a group of performers prepares to stage Liberation, a Polish literary classic distinguished by its enigmatic mixture of symbolic and realist elements. The troupe's prime player, Chris (Tadeusz Huk), is eager to move on to a bigger and better future and sees this
play as his big chance for advancement. As a result, he debates the changes made in the script--cuts that minimize the political connotations--and has frequent temper tantrums. Chris's problems are not confined to the theater--his wife, Anka (Halina Labonarska), a puppeteer, is unhappy with their
10-year-old marriage. They bicker constantly and are soon sleeping in separate rooms.
The theater is a snakepit of contending ambitions and weaknesses. One gay actor, a has-been, is appropriately cynical, while another actor hits the bottle. The women gossip about which younger actress is sleeping with the director. Even the prop men are riven by social and personal tensions. When
the troupe learns that a critic from Lodz will be at the premiere, the temperature rises significantly.
Anka, a former university student, still reads Heidegger (which Chris ridicules). On a trip to Warsaw, she meets an old school friend who seems to live well, but admits she has achieved success by means of "dagger and poison." After the successful premiere, Chris and the director talk about
conforming and getting on with their careers. Anka, however, is fed up with Chris and moves out; Chris then contemplates suicide. He's about to pull the trigger on his shotgun, but instead wrecks a poster announcing the play and heads for Anka's puppet theater, where she comforts him.
The backstage story has the potential for tragedy or farce, but in this Polish variant the pressures of a political dictatorship are never too distant, especially when it comes to success or advancement. Holland and her co-screenwriter, Witold Zatorski, have also suffused the film with a sense of
corruption and social decay--ills that can only be tolerated through a reliance on family love. PROVINCIAL ACTORS won the Cannes Film Festival's International Critics Prize. (Adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1979
- Rating: NR
- Review: PROVINCIAL ACTORS, Agnieszka Holland's first directorial effort, is an outstanding example of Polish cinema's often highly subtle intermingling of the personal and the political. Made in 1979 and released to US home video in 1995, the film uses sharp humor… (more)