Thursday, February 04, 2010

Storm Warnings: Teddy Bear

An intrusive state, an intractable bureaucracy, and soul-deadening queues were ever-present hallmarks of the Communist rule in Poland. While living standards were quite mean for most average Polish citizens, there were certain opportunities for the less scrupulous to exploit. Ryszard Ochódzki is one such (somewhat lovable) rogue. He has been playing the system for years, but he is about to be played by his ex-wife in Stanislaw Bareja’s Teddy Bear (a.k.a. Miś), an oddly groovy satire screening during, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Storm Warnings retrospective of socially conscious films produced during Poland’s Solidarity era.

Ochódzki, nicknamed Teddy Bear by his friends, manages a state-owned sports franchise. He also is involved in a number of dodgy deals, including some involving large straw bears (that look more like rabbits, but whatever). However, his ex appears to have one-upped him. Not only has she snagged a powerful sugar-daddy, she has also vandalized Ochódzki’s passport leaving her free to plunder their joint London bank account at her leisure.

In 1980’s Poland, Ochódzki was lucky to get a passport. Replacing it through bureaucratic channels is simply impossible. Not to fear, Ochódzki is capable of hatching a comically convoluted plan to find his double, trick him into applying for his own passport, and then “borrowing” it for a mad dash to Barclays Bank. It is easy as one-two-three, as long as he can find an easily manipulated doppelganger.

Co-written by Bareja and lead actor Stanislaw Tym, Teddy Bear ranks as one of Poland’s most popular comedies, spawning two further Ochódzki films decades later. Frankly though, some of the humor you probably had to be there (in early 1980’s Poland) to fully appreciate. Yet, the brazenness of Ochódzki and eccentric nature of his scheme still hold entertainment value.

As both rascal and rube, Tym shows a flair for broad comedy. He has a few line deliveries that are genuinely funny even when subtitled. While Teddy Bear is undeniably dominated by Ochódzki’s scoundrelry, Christine Paul-Podlasky brings a leavening sweetness as his more-or-less innocent girlfriend-accomplice, Aleksandra Kozel. She also seems way too attractive for him, but evidently that is the Ochódzki mystique at work.

There are some weirdly trippy moments in Teddy Bear, as well as the occasional sly tweaking of the Communist system. Along with a frequently funky soundtrack, it is an entertaining time capsule of a film. It screens Tuesday (2/9) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the ongoing Storm Warnings film series.