A new Polish comedy is meant to serve as a cultural looking-glass for Polish society of the early 21st century
Kinga Preis in Million Dollars, dir. Janusz Kondratiuk, photo: Agencja Filmowa Profilm
Janusz Kondratiuk's filmography may be slight but his released works have had a powerful impact on the contemporary Polish movie scene. As the brother of director Andrzej Kondratiuk (Wrzeciono czasu" / "The Spindle of Time, Wniebowzięci" / "Ascended) his films consist mainly of comedies, beneath which lie acute moral critiques. Everyday life in 1970s Poland comes to life through his television productions - Niedziela Barabasza" / "Barabbas's Sunday (1971), Dziewczyny do wzięcia" / "Available Girls (1972) and Czy jest tu panna na wydaniu?" / "Is There an Eligible Girl Here (1976). Although, unlike Stanisław Bareja, whose work also depicts the contradictions within the People's Republic of Poland, Janusz Kondratiuk does not create comedies that tend towards the absurd. Instead he takes great care in depicting credible and documentary-style plots: a method that proved particularly successful for the film Złote runo" / "Golden fleece released in 1996, which forms an ironic summary of the first few years of the Polish free market system.
Janusz Kondratiuk's observations are also, in a sense, the insights of an outsider (the director lived in Vienna for many years). Million dollars is his depiction of Polish society in the first decade of the 21st Century. In a statement accompanying the release of the film in early May 2011, Kondratiuk remarked:
I came back to Poland two years ago, says the director. I (had to) re-examine this new homeland of mine. I felt lost in it for a long time. This is the reason why I decided to make a film about (the new generation of) Poles: a new country, the new interests of these people, their new problems and the different way in which they live. Its supposed to make people laugh. Then again, it's not a particularly complex comedy. We made a deal with the actors that they wouldn't act in the way that actors usually perform in comedies (…) The actors behave as they would in everyday life. It is the situations they find themselves in that (become) absurd. Every choice they make may turn out to be wrong and cause new problems.
The film's premise was taken from real life. Not long ago, the Polish press published reports about a bank cashier who 'looked after' an unclaimed million dollars. This forms the film's starting point. A frustrated cashier (played by Kinga Preis) working for a large bank, finds out that an elderly lady living in her neighbourhood (Barbara Krafftówna) has inherited a million dollars. Using her employee know-how of banking procedures, she transfers the money to the bank account of a mentally handicapped neighbour.
Nevertheless, her scam is soon exposed and other residents initially demand a share. She is blackmailed into distributing the cash in exchange for their silence. Kondratiuk's tangled plot unravels with comic gags aplomb, clearly implying that it is not the complexity of the plot that interests him, but rather the people that became entangled in it.
For a comedy of errors, it is an exceptionally cynical film. By tempting the characters with the title "Million Dollars", like the proverbial carrot on a stick, Kondratiuk watches as they become consumed by greed and hypocrisy. He succeeds. He has laid out the image of a little Polish hell. Greed, pride and cunning that manages to get hold of the new generations of the changing political system. (…) "Million dollars" is an obvious satire but every joke contains a grain of truth. Kondratiuk's mirror proves unmerciful. If we look closely, we can easily recognise the characters of this film. We see them in government offices, disguising their identity on the Internet, behind counters and in post office queues. At times we can see them in ourselves. But why only now? How could our filmmakers - apart from a few isolated cases - have missed the moment when we became a capitalist Moloch thriving on exploitation and hypocrisy?
-Piotr Pluciński, a reviewer for Kino magazine (no.5, 2011).
- Million Dollars, Poland 2010. Directed by: Janusz Kondratiuk, written by: Dominik W. Rettingerand Janusz Kondratiuk, director of photography: Piotr Lenar, music: Leszek Możdżer, set design: Marek Zawierucha, costumes: Katarzyna Morawska, edited by: Marcin "kot" Bastkowski, sound recording: Piotr Podgórski. Cast: Kinga Preis (Bożenka), Tomasz Karolak (Stasiunek, jej mąż), Joanna Kulig (Zuzanna), Jakub Girerszał (Pawełek Leo), Hanna Konarowska (Matylda), Rafał Mohr (Walduś), Barbara Krafftówna (Hanna Walczak), Andrzej Grabowski (Tomuś). Produced by Profilm Film Agency, co-produced by HBO Poland. Co-financed by the Polish Film Institute. Distributed by Pro-Film. Running time: 109 min. Release date: May 13, 2011.
By: Konrad J. Zarębski. Translated by Roberto Galea, May 2011.