A story about the Retirement Home for Actors in Skolimów, not quite a documentary but more of a feature film. It was cast with real old actors from among the Skolimów home's residents...
The Retirement Home for Actors, where elderly actors in a difficult personal or financial situation find refuge, gains a new resident - Jerzy, also known as "Great Sharp" ["Wielki Szu"] from his popular film role. Contrary to the others, he doesn't treat this place as his final safe haven but as a retreat where he has come to gather strength. Mixing with his older fellow residents, with some of whom he used to appear on stage and others he admired as masters, is rather depressing, so Jerzy slips out to the nearby town. From one of these walks, he returns with a large poodle, which inspires him to take on an unusual project. He decides to stage Faust, with the dog - according to the literary original - playing Mephisto. Jerzy's proposal is received with genuine enthusiasm by the actors: these veterans of the stage vie for parts, and even the most withdrawn and alienated of them decide to leave their rooms...
Jacek Bławut, a respected and award-winning documentary filmmaker, waited a long 11 years for his feature debut. This was how much time passed from when he got the idea to tell a story about the Retirement Home for Actors in Skolimów, an actual home for retired performers, not in a documentary but in a feature film. Almost everything changed in the course of those 11 years - the screenplay, the co-producers, the planned leading actors (it's truly saddening when you hear the director listing the actors who did not live to play their final roles) - but the idea remained. That idea was to show the actor's passion, the readiness to play one more part, even the smallest one, at any cost. No less important is the second idea - to cast the film with real old actors from among the Skolimów home's forty residents, and for them to include former stars who are familiar from films made 30-40 years ago but today are changed by the passing of time. The most interesting thing about Bławut's film, though, is that it shows people who for years lived the lives of others - characters from the plays and films they appeared in, but are now forced to learn how to live all over again; hence the alienation, avoiding meetings with former colleagues, even in the dining room or the club room. This sad setting serves as a backdrop for everyday themes, but ones that gain special importance - love, shown as a lasting relationship or as a newly emerging emotion despite the passage of time, always excruciating loneliness, personal tragedies concealed from the public (to mention the great dancer and choreographer Witold Gruca, who could only move around with the help of an artificial limb when the film was being made).
Jeszcze nie wieczór / Before Twilight is a very poignant film - not only by virtue of showing former idols of Polish cinema. This is primarily a look at old age - distressing, but at the same time beautiful. It's also a reflection on the power of true art - with its impact on the performers themselves and on random audiences, even those unprepared. Screened at the festival in Gdynia, Bławut's film caused a lot of emotion. One of the jury members, Janusz Anderman, shared this memory from the jury's session:
"With two other people, I voted for a film which had no shortcomings. It was a cohesive, complete, and consistent picture - 'Before Twilight' by Jacek Bławut. Without pathos yet tenderly, it speaks about death, about how the old masters of acting are nearing the end of their days in Skolimów. These aren't random deaths, the kind you see in many films presented in Gdynia. This is a natural end after a fulfilling life. Before it comes, though, Jan Nowicki steps in, playing himself superbly and with self-ridicule. He rouses the barely mobile old people to undertake an extraordinary final project of their lives - they will prepare 'Faust' and play it at a prison. The unruly criminals slowly grow quiet and settle down. What they are seeing starts getting through to them, and even they can draw a lesson from such a moving performance, understand the remains of truth with which they have been confronted" ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 23 September 2008).
The film ultimately won the Silver Lions from the jury and a Golden Kangaroo from Australian distributors, while Jan Nowicki was recognized as the best actor of the festival.
- Jeszcze nie wieczór / Before Twilight, Poland 2008. Director: Jacek Bławut, screenplay: Jacek Bławut, Jacek Piotr Bławut, Stanisław Józefowicz, cinematography: Wojciech Staroń, music: Tomasz Stroynowski, set design: Jacek Turewicz, costumes: Justyna Pytko, editing: Jarosław Kamiński, Jacek Bławut, sound: Tomasz Wieczorek. Cast: Jan Nowicki (Jerzy "Wielki Szu"/"Great Sharp"), Nina Andrycz (as herself), Sonia Bohosiewicz (Małgorzata), Irena Kwiatkowska (as herself), Danuta Szaflarska (Barbara), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Róża), Stefan Burczyk (Sodolski), Wieńczysław Gliński (Romantic Lead), Witold Gruca (Choreographer), Lech Gwit (Henryk), Roman Kłosowski (Nostradamus), Witold Orzechowski (Priest). Production: Studio Filmowe Rabarbar, Telewizja Polska - Agencja Filmowa, Toya Studios. Co-financed by: Polish Film Institute. Distribution: Fundacja Film Polski. Length 96 min. Released on 15 May 2008.
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, April 2009
- 2008 - Silver Lions for Jacek Bławut and Anna Bławut-Mazurkiewicz, Golden Kangaroo - Australian distributors' award for Jacek Bławut, award for best actor for Jan Nowicki at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 2009 - Jańcio Wodnik Main Prize for Jacek Bławut at the Prowincjonalia Polish National Festival Of Film Art in Września.