27 July, 2009

Persona non grata (2005)

Ode to friendship

Prolific Polish director Krzyzstof Zanussi has made around 75 much-respected movies, and is considered to be in the same league as Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski. The witty and affecting Persona non grata (2005) is, along with the German TV movie Wege in der Nacht (1979) (Ways in the night or Nightwatch) probably his best film. In addition, both films feature the brilliant music of Wojciech Kilar, the actor Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, and are scripted by the physicist-turned-philosophy student Zanussi.

At the elementary level, the film is about diplomats and their lives, but, go deeper, and you'll see Zanussi exploring the relationship between Poland and post-Glasnost Russia and the denizens of both nations. The director also touches on the subtle differences between the orthodox Christians and Catholics - which also featured in the late Kieslowski's work. There are more Catholics in Poland, while Orthodox Christians dominate Russia - Zanussi differentiates the spirituality of the two in the rich verbal sparring that the film unfolds between a Polish and a Soviet diplomat. Finally, Zanussi teases the viewer by leading one to suspend disbelief in the main character - for some time, even the astute viewer is led astray, reduced to the level of a 'persona non grata', believing that the film is merely about a diplomat who is about to lose his diplomatic powers at the embassy.

Great performances from three great Polish actors - Zbigniew Zapasiewicz (Zanussi's favorite), Jerzy Stuhr (Kieslowski's favorite), and Daniel Olbryschsky (Wajda's favorite) adorn the film, but the most striking is the acting performance of Russian actor-director Nikita Mikhalkov, who can do a great turn as a restrained comic (for example his performance in his half-brother Mikhalkov Konchalovsky's Siberiade).

Persona non grata is an ode to friendships, to friends who remain loyal, friends who are not seen as such when times are good, but are recognized for what they are when tragedy strikes, and friends who dislike being insulted, even by mistake. Thankfully, the film proves that Polish cinema is alive and well, and shows a director who's clearly back at the top of his game.

Awards: Click here for details.

In Polish, Russian, English and Spanish. 117 mins.

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