Following on the success of his film version of Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tandeusz, Andrzej Wajda, recipient of the year 2000 Oscar for lifetime achievement, has brought Aleksander Fredro's classic comedy Zemsta / Revenge to the big screen.
Written in a sharp, ironic style, REVENGE portrays those national characteristics that in time brought on many of Poland's national tragedies. Written for the stage, Wajda has changed very little and transferred practically the entirety of the work to the screen. Nevertheless, screenplay authors Jan Prochyra and Maciej Karpinski have introduced some significant innovations, one of them involving setting the action in winter.
Royal Cupbearer Raptusiewicz resides in one half of a castle with the other half inhabited by his hated rival Regent Milczek. Raptusiewicz wishes to marry the Podstolina (widow of the Lord High Steward) for her money, while the Podstolina herself seeks a wealthy match. Regent Milczek's wish, on the other hand, is to bring about the union of his son Waclaw with the Podstolina. To complicate matters more, Waclaw is in love with Klara - ward and niece of the Cupbearer, who took her in following the death of her parents - and the feeling is mutual. The plot thickens when Klara turns into Papkin's declared object of love... That in brief is the tale Aleksander Fredro tells in his comedy.
Real events inspired Aleksander Fredro to write the play. In November of 1828, Fredro married Zofia Skarbkowa, whose dowry included the title to half of a castle located in Odrzykon in the province of Galicia. In 1829, when looking through the archives of the castle, he happened on court records related to a dispute dating from the 17th century between the owners of the castle's two halves - Jan Skotnicki and Piotr Firlej. The conflict was long and relentless. It ended after more than thirty years with the marriage of Firlej's son to Zofia Skotnicka, an end similar to that adopted by Fredro in his play.
While working on REVENGE, Fredro gradually abandoned his initial concept, transforming many characters. Ultimately, he set the play towards the end of the 18th century, at a time when, director Andrzej Wajda contends, "Poland based on the noble estate and high-handed attitudes had disintegrated, among other reasons, because of the independent, often lawless, stances like those of the Cupbearer and Regent... Poles have unfortunately changed very little since those days. Even if we are capable at times of achieving a degree of national consensus - and we have been witness to at least one instance of this in our times - harmony does not last for long. That is why I hope that members of the public who see REVENGE and witness the Cupbearer and Regent laying their dispute to rest, will perceive this scene as a warning against the illusory nature of this conciliatory gesture. After all, it is a gesture that may be turned to dust by these same characters in the blink of an eye, when their Polish characters once again strip reason of control."
The film features some of Poland's best actors, including Janusz Gajos as Cupbearer Raptusiewicz and Andrzej Seweryn as Regent Milczek. Roman Polanski, an actor on rare occasions, plays Papkin while Daniel Olbrychski portrays Dyndalski. Agata Buzek appears in the film as Klara, with Rafal Krolikowski as her love interest Waclaw and Katarzyna Figura as the Podstolina. Cinematography: Pawel Edelman; production design: Tadeusz Kosarewicz and Magdalena Dipont; costumes: Krystyna Zachwatowicz and Magda Biedrzycka; music: Wojciech Kilar. Distribution in Poland: Vision Film Distribution Company. REVENGE premiered in cinemas on October 4, 2002.