Stanisław Bareja’s 1976 film ‘Brunet Will Call’ has achieved cult status in Poland. In this comedy the director mocks not only the realities of life in Poland under the communist regime, but also the conventions of crime dramas.
Before Stanisław Bareja became one of the leading directors of Polish satirical films, he tried his hand at other genres. It is worth recalling that in 1961, he directed a crime drama, The Touch of the Night, and a few years later, he worked as a screenwriter for the first action series on Polish TV, Barbara i Jan. However, his greatest success of that period was the mini-series Kapitan Sowa na Tropie (Captain Sowa on the Trail, editor’s translation) from 1965, in which a brave militiaman played by Wiesław Gołas solves complex crimes. In the mid-1970s, the director, who had started to infuse his film with the aesthetics of the absurd and bitter observations about the communist regime, decided to return to the structure of crime films. In Brunet Will Call, he makes fun of crime stories and he does not even spare himself – the supporting role of Kazik, played by Wiesław Gołas, seems to mock Captain Sowa. The film’s focus is not only the crime story, it also satirises life under the communist regime.
The main character of the film, Michał Roman (played by Krzysztof Kowalewski), hopes to have some peace and quiet when his wife (played by Bożena Dykiel) goes away for a weekend with their unruly children. Sadly, the idyll does not last long, as it is disturbed by a mysterious visitor. A gypsy woman comes to Michał’s house and forecasts that the following day he would be visited by an unidentified brunet, who Michał would then kill. Michał would probably have ignored the words of the grotesque old woman, but when parts of her prophecy come true, he starts to panic. Soon, he is convinced that he is being manipulated. The plot thickens but fortunately the protagonist knows that the most suspicious people wear red hats.
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Still from the film ‘Brunet Will Call’ directed by Stanisław Bareja. Shown in the photo: Wojciech Pokora and Mirosława Krajewska , photo: Jerzy Troszczyński/Studio Filmowe Kadr/Filmoteka Narodowa - Instytut Audiowizualny/www.fototeka.fn.org.pl
Like many of Bareja’s other films from the 1970s and 1980s, a summary of the plot does not do justice to how well Brunet Will Call mocks Polish reality. Bareja shows a world where a brake cable for a car can only be found at the butcher’s shop, where militia admonish pedestrians by shouting through a megaphone: ‘Pedestrians! Stick to the zebra crossing!’, where the TV has to be turned off when the most popular show is on because the increased power consumption can cause the TV to break.
One particular scene set in a museum is a masterpiece. The exhibition consists of alcohol bottles from different centuries to illustrate the phenomenon of the nobility making peasants dependant on alcohol. A teacher guiding pupils through the room has a problem with the last, unsigned object – as it turns out, it is not part of the exhibition, but a bottle used by the cleaner to water the plants. This scene shows the essence of Bareja’s humour – not only aimed at the communist regime, but also distanced from all the slogans and institutions. In this particular case, the director showed that even a worthless object placed in a museum space gains the status of an art piece.
From today’s perspective, what’s most interesting in Brunet Will Call is not its socio-political humour but the experiments with the conventions of crime films. Bareja uses the aesthetics of different genres and entwines cabaret-like scenes with shots that preserve the poetics of a crime flick. In the culminating moment, in order to imitate horror films he makes use of a dark lighting, cold blue colours, and wide-angle lenses that distort the image. Such conventions are, however, broke down and ridiculed by the director. Bareja further plays with the convention of crime films – Michał finds out the identity of the villain by sheer chance, not through the power of deduction and logical reasoning.
Even though Brunet Will Call contains a few unnecessary scenes and its humour is very sophisticated, the comedy is one of the most humorous of Bareja’s films. It is an interesting example of self-aware, ironic popular cinema from the era of the communist regime. It could be even said that its experiments with conventions make Brunet Will Call similar to late post-modernist works.
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Brunet Will Call
Directed by Stanisław Bareja. Script: Stanisław Bareja, Andrzej Kill (pseudonym of Stanisław Tym). Director of photography: Wiesław Zdort. Designer: Allan Starski. Music: Waldemar Kazanecki. Cast: Krzysztof Kowalewski (Michał Roman), Wojciech Pokora (Kowalski), Janina Traczykówna (neighbour of Romans), Wiesław Gołas (Kazik Malinowski), Bożena Dykiel (Anna Roman), and others. Zespół Filmowy Pryzmat, Polska 1976. Colour film, 90 minutes.