The Last Action – Michał Rogalski
The feature debut of documentary filmmaker Michał Rogalski - Ostatnia akcja / The Last Action - belongs to that slightly forgotten part of Polish cinema we could call the 'Warsaw trend'.
These are films about the Polish capital portraying its special character, its genius loci, but first and foremost the personality of its residents - their special sense of humour, cunning, courage, unique sense of dignity. This once prolific trend, represented by both comedies (to mention Tadeusz Chmielewski's Nie lubię poniedziałku / I Hate Mondays) and dramas (such as Andrzej Wajda's Kanał), died out at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, recently to return to cinemas - mainly thanks to young filmmakers - with Łukasz Palkowski's Rezerwat / The Reserve or Grzegorz Pacek's Środa czwartek rano / Wednesday, Thursday Morning.
Rogalski's film unfolds in Warsaw at the start of the 21st century, a city that is modern, one might even say - European, growing wealthy but also struggling with the problems typical of large cities. The leading figure of the local criminal underworld is a gangster who introduces himself as lawyer Szaro (Piotr Fronczewski), a man of many shady deals, sure of his impunity because he bribes policemen. In a bar Szaro owns, Mateusz Zuber has a part-time job as a waiter. When he stands up to defend a female co-worker molested by the manager, he loses his job; when he demands his due pay - the lawyer's men beat him up so brutally he ends up in hospital. Mateusz's grandfather Zygmunt Zuber, a former Home Army [Armia Krajowa - AK] soldier who fought in the Warsaw Uprising , is in Warsaw; outraged at the police's passivity, he takes matters into his own hands. He gets together his old buddies who served under his command in the Home Army, and they prepare a revenge operation to get lawyer Szaro and his men thrown into prison. The operation, carried out in accordance with the rules of underground resistance activity, ends in success.
Despite its light-hearted treatment of the story, Michał Rogalski's film has a few serious aspects as well. For one thing, Ostatnia akcja (The Last Action) reflects the political divisions in Polish society. But the focus is on elderly people who risked their lives fighting against the occupying forces, fighting for Warsaw and for Poland, but today are unable to cope with the pace of change around them. It's not so bad when they move around the streets of old Żoliborz district which still retain their old character, but the expansive development of the city's centre threatens to destroy Warsaw's traditional character. The former insurgents, though lost in their native city, are still prepared to undertake other forms of social activity than taking part in anniversary commemorations or funerals or trying to get yet another monument built. What Zygmunt Zuber proposes to them reveals they have huge potential worth utilizing.
It's just like the potential of elderly actors, adored by audiences so recently but today living out their days in the retired actors' home in Skolimów or commenting their past achievements on television. Rogalski invited a group of very good actors to his project and gave them parts not so much harking back to their familiar specializations as bringing these people out of oblivion. After all, Barbara Krafftówna played an equally prominent role at least a dozen years ago, Marian Kociniak hasn't been in front of a camera for seven years, while Lech Ordon or Witold Skaruch have only appeared on screen in bit parts for a long time. However, the star of the film is Jan Machulski, one of the leading artists of Polish cinema, with more than a hundred films to his credit, an actor, director, and teacher. To his most famous parts - in Tadeusz Konwicki's Ostatni dzień lata / The Last Day of Summer, Janusz Majewski's Sublokator / The Lodger, Juliusz Machulski's Vabank / Va Banque and Vinci - he added his role in Ostatnia akcja (The Last Action), regrettably also the last in his impressive range of achievements. That alone ensures this film a place in the history of Polish cinema, but one must not forget that Rogalski's successful feature debut has many other good points as well.
- Ostatnia akcja / The Last Action, Poland 2009. Director: Michał Rogalski, screenplay: Michał Rogalski, Krzysztof Rak, cinematography: Karina Kleszczewska, music: Jan Komar, Piotr Zabrodzki, set design: Magda Widelska-Władyka, costumes: Magdalena Komar, editing: Jarosław Pietraszek, sound: Adam Wilk, Bartłomiej Woźniak. Cast: Jan Machulski (Zygmunt Zuber), Barbara Krafftówna ("Goga"), Alina Janowska (Colonel "Dowgird"), Marian Kociniak ("Kotek"), Piotr Fronczewski (Lawyer Szaro), Karolina Gorczyca (Magda), Antoni Pawlicki (Robert Malinowski), Szymon Mysłakowski (Mateusz Zuber), Witold Skaruch ("Rotor"), Lech Ordon ("Czujny"), Wojciech Siemion (Alowiec), Marek Kalita (Tomasz Zuber), Małgorzata Potocka (his wife). Production: Zebra Film Studio, TVP S.A., Documentary and Feature Film Studio (WFDiF), Non Stop Film Service. Distribution: Best Film. Length: 95 min. Released on 14 August 2009.
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, June 2009