‘A Jungle Book of Regulations’ is a 1974 film by Stanisław Bareja considered to be the best comedy about the housing problems in Poland under the communist regime.
Issues with accommodation and the lack of post-war housing are an excellent basis for a comedy, as Polish filmmakers discovered very early on. The first Polish film of this genre was created just after the war: Leonard Buczkowski’s The Treasure from 1948 was a story about a couple without an apartment. In Buczkowski’s film, the issues were caused by war damage but in later comedies such as Leon Jeannot’s Man with an Apartment (1968), the source of trouble (and humour) was the regime’s housing policy.
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In the era of the communist regime in Poland, housing was incomparably cheaper than after 1989. However, sometimes one had to wait years for a flat to be allocated and the living conditions were far from luxurious. No wonder the topic piqued the interest of the most acrimonious satirist of the era, Stanisaław Bareja. In A Jungle Book of Regulations, he is supported by top actors from the Polish cabaret scene of that time such as Jerzy Dobrowolski, Jacek Fedorowicz, and Stanisław Tym.
The film’s protagonist, Polish language teacher Jan Filikiewicz (Jacek Fedorowicz), gets very lucky. An unknown man wants to exchange apartments with him, and Jan and his wife Wanda (Halina Kowalska) are finally able to move out of a small room in a house (taken over by government offices) to a big flat. However, as it turns out, the new home is far from perfect – the apartments of that era are full of defects and shortcomings. Doorknobs fall off, walls crumble after being touched, and water gushes out of water pipes and floods the place.
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Still, bigger issues start when the Filikiewiczes gain a new, unwanted tenant. According to the law, Jerzy (Jerzy Dobrowolski), Wanda’s ex-husband, can move to wherever his ex-wife lives. Helpless, Jan tries to get rid of the intruder but all his attempts backfire. After a while, the apartment is shared not only by the Filikiewiczes and Jerzy but also by Jerzy’s second wife Lusia (Stanisława Celińska) and her boyfriend Zenek (Stanisław Tym).
Bareja’s idea can bring the famous scene from the Marx brothers’ Phantom of the Opera (1935) to mind, in which people are crammed into a cramped ship cabin. This nod is deliberate – the director consciously refers to classic American comedies. Jan’s struggles with the malignant matter are reminiscent of slapstick and the scene in which a hungover man wakes up on a wobbly scaffolding is clearly inspired by 1923’s Safety Last starring Harold Lloyd. However, it’s not the primitive gags but the combination of sociological satire and the poetics of the absurd that make Bareja’s film exceptional. The protagonists of A Jungle Book of Regulations are stereotypical Polish figures from the era of the communist regime in Poland. We meet a naïve intellectual (Jan), a sly schemer (Jerzy), a beefy bird-brained worker (Zenek), and a giddy girl from the provinces (Lusia). The bonanza of colourful personalities is supplemented by excellent supporting characters such as the perky neighbour Boguś (Henryk Kluba) who wants to get closer to the Filikiewiczes because he thinks that the crowded apartment is a spot for unbridled ‘gruppensex’.
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Bareja uses the most obvious stereotypes but enhances them to the point of absurdity and, with a great sense of humour, depicts folly, boorishness, and naivety. The satire is directed not only at the people but at the social system in its entirety – it is the policies of the communist regime which force people to prevaricate, nark, and deceive. The film’s Polish title, which translates to ‘where there’s love there are roses’, combines the lyrics of a song with the proverb ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ and is a good symbol of the lack of logic in a country under a communist regime and of the film’s absurdist poetics.
Even though the comedy in A Jungle Book of Regulations is not always fresh and original, it also includes true jewels of humour. It’s enough to mention the fragments with the brazen Jerzy, magnificently portrayed by Jerzy Dobrowolski, the scene depicting the Polish people’s manner during their commute, or the scene with Zenek’s mathematics as he enigmatically calculates Jan’s debt. Furthermore, A Jungle Book of Regulations foreshadows one of Bareja’s future best works – the TV series Alternatywy 4 (1983-1986) in which the housing issues would become a point of departure for creating a metaphor of for Poland under the communist regime.
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A Jungle Book of Regulations (original title: Nie ma róży bez ognia)
Director: Stanisław Bareja. Screenplay: Stanisław Bareja, Jacek Fedorowicz. Cinematography: Andrzej Ramlau. Scenography: Tadeusz Myszorek. Music: Waldemar Kazanecki. Cast: Jacek Fedorowicz (Janek Filikiewicz), Jerzy Dobrowolski (Jerzy Dąbczak), Halina Kowalska (Wanda), Stanisław Tym (Zenek) Mieczysław Czechowicz (Lusia’s father), Stanisława Celińska (Lusia), Wiesław Gołas (Malinowski), Bronisław Pawlik (administrator), Henryk Kluba (Boguś), and others. Zespół Filmowy Pryzmat, Poland 1974. Colour, 91 minutes.
Originally written in Polish by Robert Birkholc, translated by Patryk Grabowski, May 2019