Director Andrzej Wajda--who first gained international attention for his bleak and powerful portrayal of the futility of escape from German-occupied Poland in KANAL (1956)--turns his gaze to contemporary Polish consciousness in the 1979 WITHOUT ANESTHESIA, released to US home video in
1995. This is a story about a successful foreign correspondent who returns from abroad to discover that his wife has left him for another man--what he has assumed was the perfect life gradually reveals itself to have been merely a refuge.
The film begins with a televised interview of journalist Jerzy Michalowski (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), a household name in Poland. Confident and proud, he glibly pontificates about the revolutions he has witnessed abroad and the times he has risked his life for the story. When questioned about why he
covers events in the Third World and not those in Poland, he prefers to skip to the next question.
Jerzy's wife (Ewa Datkowska) picks him up at the airport and informs him that she and their young daughter have moved out. He is taken completely by surprise. As the weeks pass, he finds himself increasingly estranged and ostracized from his community. The courses he has planned to teach at the
University have been cancelled and he is not given any new assignments. He is stranded without anesthesia, so to speak. When the divorce goes to court he listens silently as a series of witnesses commit perjury to bolster his wife's case. Jerzy, the confident professional who is never without a
rhetorical speech, is speechless, and leaves the courthouse alone. Later, ambulances arrive at his home and remove his corpse.
The film takes a critical look at Poles who have turned their attention to the exterior world in an effort to distance themselves from the humiliation and suffering of their homeland. In the film's opening interview, Jerzy frequently uses the concerns of private life to illustrate political
events, and yet he has failed to make this vital connection in his own life. In a drunken conversation with students at his apartment, he discusses his broken marriage but when challenged, fails to see how the political petition resembles the marital contract. When he faces the deceit and
corruption of the Polish judicial system, he finds he is defenseless and that he has overestimated his own strength.
In a realist manner, the camera follows Jerzy through the long days of his despair as he occupies a seemingly unending array of dark, dingy, poorly-planned interiors. The result is a painfully slow film which lacks sufficient visual interest. Thus, in the end, the engaging premise of the film is
buried somewhere beneath volumes of unnecessary and dreary footage.
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- Released: 1979
- Rating: NR
- Review: Director Andrzej Wajda--who first gained international attention for his bleak and powerful portrayal of the futility of escape from German-occupied Poland in KANAL (1956)--turns his gaze to contemporary Polish consciousness in the 1979 WITHOUT ANESTHESIA,… (more)