The Art of Loving, an adaptation of Michalina Wisłocka’s biography, is both a tale about her and about the taboo topic that is Polish sexuality. Humorous and well-acted, the film is well worth watching.
In her version of Michalina Wisłocka’s biography, Maria Sadowska chooses to talk about sex without exaggeration, shy blushing or provocative intent. She does not judge her characters, or moralise over their sometimes questionable choices. In The Art of Loving, sex is neither good nor bad, it’s just a part of everyday life. The story of the famous Polish gynaecologist and sexologist, whose lifestyle guidebook The Art of Loving sold over 7 million copies in the 1970s, is a straightforward story about a person whose body and soul are connected into one, indivisible whole.
Sadowska’s movie, following in the footsteps of Łukasz Palkowski’s Gods, shows the great results of having a talented screenwriter, producer, and director. Krzysztof Rak, who wrote who produced and wrote both of these films, is one of the greatest discoveries of Polish cinema in the last few years. Gods amassed a spectacular number of over 2 million tickets sold, while The Art of Loving had the biggest opening weekend of 2017 so far, with over 250 thousand people visiting cinemas.
The question arises – what is so appealing in Rak’s movies? Well, the first thing is his undeniable talent, but that’s not all. He also knows that to create a successful movie, you have to conform to some rules. You need an interesting protagonist, well-timed plot twists and precisely built tension. What’s more, an engaging narrative is essential is building a moving story. He knows these rules, and does his best to fit the stories he wants to tell within their borders.
The Art of Loving is yet another example of that practice. This time, however, he chooses a more difficult, branching structure than in Gods, where he focused on one, linear story. We can see Wisłocka in a few distant moments in her life throughout the film: her childhood, times of war, medical studies, and eventually – the 1960s and 70s, when she tries to revolutionise Polish sexology. By looking at both the past and the future of their heroine, the creators of the movie try to paint her as a kind of secular saint – a brave, charismatic woman, who had to take on the patriarchal reality of Polish People’s Republic for the benefit of her patients, and paid for her choices with her ruined private life.
In The Art of Loving all aforementioned rules seem to be satisfied – there is an intriguing hero, interesting secondary characters, there is a goal and difficulties to overcome in order to reach it. However, with time we get disengaged from the story. That is because we know how the story ends from the beginning, as the most important struggle in the film is whether Wisłocka will manage to publish her book.
Of course in Gods the ending was also known from the beginning, but it did not prevent viewers from getting engaged in Religa’s story. That is unfortunately not the case in Wisłocka’s story. That is mostly due to the fact that Krzysztof Rak and Maria Sadowska do not treat the subplots with enough care. They tell the tale of love triangle between Wisłocka, her husband and her friend, and their children feature heavily in the story. However, at some point this plot abruptly ends and is not mentioned any more, focusing instead on the main story about a woman who does not conform to the social norms and prudery imposed on her by society.
Among the many subplots, the one that seems to be the most well constructed is the tale of Wisłocka’s affair with a married man. That is because of Eryk Lubos’s tearjerking performance. This characteristic actor, who seems to be made to play strong, steadfast men, this time portrays a man who is torn between duty and passion, an extremely human and tragic character. The character similar to the one created by Magdalena Boczarska, who plays the role of her life in The Art of Loving.
The movie is proof that there are talented, brilliant actors in Poland, who directed by Sadowska create exceptional characters. Piotr Adamczyk is convincing as Wisłocka’s husband, while Arkadiusz Jakubik and Wojciech Mecwaldowski, who play state representatives, show off their comic talents. Borys Szyc proves once again that his inborn screen presence is exceptional. Justyna Wasilewska’s performance is the icing on the cake, and proves her status as one of the most talented young Polish actresses. She plays a friend of Wisłocka and her husband’s lover. Her character steals the show in every scene that she appears in, simultaneously flirting with viewers and repulsing them.
All these traits make The Art of Loving a pleasure to watch. This joy is not harmed by obnoxious and a little too illustrative music by Jimek, nor by a few unnecessary scenes. That is because The Art of Loving is conscious both of its strengths and its shortcomings. It does not promise more than it is able to deliver, and it delivers two hours of intelligent entertainment, with witty dialogue and brilliant acting.
- The Art of Loving: The Story of Michalina Wislocka, Directed by Maria Sadowska, screenplay by Krzysztof Rak, Director of Photography: Michał Sobociński. Starring: Magdalena Boczarska, Eryk Lubos, Piotr Adamczyk, Justyna Wasilewska, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Wojciech Mecwaldowski, Jaśmina Polak. Premiered in cinemas on 27 January 2017.