Saturday, February 15, 2014

Martin Scorsese Presents: To Kill This Love

Can a rotten political system corrupt the youth? It certainly will not do Magda and Andrzej any favors.  The two attractive lovers should have a bright future ahead of them, but there is no space for either of them in Communist Poland’s universities. The critical strategies of Socialist Realism are turned back on the Socialist state in Janusz Morgenstern’s To Kill This Love, which screens tonight as a handpicked selection of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

It was always Magda’s ambition to be a doctor, but it appears she will have to settle for being an orderly. Andrzej never had a calling per se, nor does he have a job of any sort. He would seem to have a future of manual labor to look forward to (if he is lucky), but Andrzej is not the settling type. Hoping to move into their own place, Magda and Andrzej will scrimp as best they can and put the arm on their problematic parents. However, Andrzej will take short cuts that could poison their relationship.

In a way, Magda and Andrzej are the Polish Jack and Diane—two kids growing up the best that they can. It will not work out. Like a good Socialist Realist, Morgenstern is not exactly subtle in his approach.  Frankly, it is a small miracle To Kill did not give some poor apparatchik a cerebral hemorrhage.  The contrast between the grim prospects faced by Polish young people tossed aside by the state’s educational system and the constant reports of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (a pinnacle of Yankee scientific achievement) is hard to miss.

Perhaps even more heavy-handed are the more impressionistic interludes featuring a corrupt night watchman (who fences the goods he is supposed to protect) and his faithful-to-a-fault canine companion. When he chooses graft over love an entire class of petty Party hacks stand indicted.

Every frame of To Kill screams 1972, in both good and bad ways. One can readily detect the influence of the youth culture and the tripped out psychedelic cinema of the age, as well as old school proletarian social drama.  Maybe Andrzej Malec’s namesake would have been considered a catch at the time, but his charms have not aged well. While it is hard to fault his mercurial performance, the character’s dubious motivations and self-destructive tendencies are a quite a load to labor under. In contrast, Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak brings an innocent yet passionate presence, like an early (straighter) forerunner to Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color.

To Kill is clearly a product of its time. For an intimate story of an affair on the outs, it ranges pretty far and wide. Still, despite its stylistic eccentricities, it retains considerable bite. Recommended for dedicated connoisseurs of Polish cinema, To Kill this Love screens tonight (2/15) at the Walter Reade, as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, which will continue on its thirty city North American tour following it New York run.