Janosik: The True Story - Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik
Feature film by Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik (2009).
Earlier film versions of Janosik were made in the convention of a fairy tale, a legend, a folk stylisation, or a costume comedy. We were seduced by the completely different poetics of Eva Borušovičova's script; first of all, it is based on genuine 18th-century documents and not a romantic legend, and secondly, it involves a subjective, original lyricism. Janosik in Eva Borušovičova's script is tragic and at the same time very contemporary: he could be an American boy who returns from the war in Iraq to the urban ghetto and becomes a gang leader. The story of Janosik grew into a legend, and slowly the legend pushed the real characters and events from public awareness. Our film restores this historical figure's authenticity, preserving his romantic character. Almost all the events and people described in the screenplay are based on historical fact; the main source of the story were court materials from Janosik's and Uhorcik's trial, which have survived in their entirety. We also wanted the film to include, apart from stunt-packed action and showing how the charismatic hero matured, a lot of humour and youthful eroticism.
- production release
The film is set in the years 1711-1713. The Slovak Juraj Janosik took part in the anti-Habsburg uprising of Francis II Rakoczi, and after it fell he was conscripted into the imperial army. When he was on guard duty, he helped Tomas Uhorcik escape from prison; allegedly the man repaid him by buying him out of the army and letting him join his band of robbers. After Uhorcik gave up the robber's profession, he anointed Janosik as his successor as the band's captain (ringleader). He was caught after less than two years of robbing and put on trial, accused of numerous robberies and taking part in the murder of a priest. He was hanged the day after the trial - as a warning to others - from a hook. That's all the court documents say about Janosik. The highland robber was remembered differently in folk tales - as an insurgent with Rakoczi and a rejected lover who went into the mountains to seek death, but rediscovered himself in the role of a robber. Persecuted by hajduk soldiers, he robbed people but didn't keep the loot for himself - on the contrary, he gave it to the poor. Romantic legend also added stories about the robber's numerous love conquests, his extraordinary cunning, and almost magical powers that allowed him to escape capture.
Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik's film is a search for the golden mean. Yes, it tries to set the events in chronological order, but also stops short of stripping its main character of his romantic aura. In Václav Jiráček's interpretation Janosik is a young man (the court documents prove he was born in 1688), aware he is different - inclined to lead a life of solitude, with a different sensitivity than the people around him, contrary to the highland tradition of the time - even averse to robbery. This otherness, which Jiráček highlights in such a contemporary way, made him a leader but was also the cause of his tragedy - too lenient towards traitors, he was unable to protect himself from mercenaries (among them the intriguing part played by Michał Żebrowski), missing the warmth of a family or friendly home too much, he got himself caught before he managed to carry out his plan of assuming a different name and coming forward to marry his beloved - a woman who, like him, was different from most of the highland community.
Drawing their modernized image of Janosik but retaining the qualities of a costume adventure film, Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik couldn't write off their hero's romantic legend. Their story includes a witch who can foretell the future (the surprising Maja Ostaszewska), it also has raw landscapes and elements of folklore - skilfully underscored by Antoni Łazarkiewicz's music - from a highland wedding in a mountain pasture to the rituals of Midsummer Eve marking the passage of time. There is also room to present the special quality of the region where the film is set - the Hungarian-Slovak-Polish borderland with its customs and cultural diversity. But Janosik: The True Story is primarily a film about a romantic desire for freedom. As Bożena Janicka notes in Kino magazine:
The romantic hero always feels the evil of the world more profoundly, it's his problem, his affliction. But the film is about something else which is certainly true: about the desire for freedom as a natural human need, existing outside politics and its slogans, against which it no more than brushes. There is no better place nor more aptly chosen community to show this desire more believably. Stifled among the peasant class through centuries of serfdom, degenerated among the gentry caste over centuries of lawlessness - here in the mountains, where serfdom was not such an enslavement as it was on manor farms, and where the highlanders knew how to protect themselves, it speaks very powerfully. And it's probably to experience absolute freedom that Janosik from Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik's film became a robber.
- Janosik. Prawdziwa historia / Janosik: The True Story, Poland/Slovakia/Czech Republic/Hungary 2009. Director: Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik, screenplay: Eva Borušovičová, cinematography: Martin Štrba, music: Antoni Łazarkiewicz, set design: František Lipták, Marek Zawierucha, costumes: Anita Hroššová, Magdalena Tesławska, editing: Michał Czarnecki, Marek Královský, sound: Krzysztof Jastrząb. Cast: Václav Jiráček (Janosik), Ivan Martinka (Uhorcik), Michał Żebrowski (Huncaga), Sarah Zoe Canner (Barbara), Katarzyna Herman (Zuzanna), Danuta Szaflarska (Janosik's grandmother), Marian Dziędziel (Sipos), Táňa Pauhofová (Anusia), Matúš Krátky (Mikulas Sustek). Production: Apple Film Production - In Film Praha - Charlie's - TVP S.A. - Eurofilm Studio - HBO Central Europe. Co-financed by: Polish Film Institute, Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic. Distribution: Syrena Films. Length: 137 min. Released on 4 September 2009.
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, August 2009.