Wednesday 17 April 2013

Miś (1980)

A cat, dressed as a rabbit
I was urged to watch 'Miś', and informed only that it was a Polish comedy, and a cult film.  I've been keen to see some Polish comedy, as everything I've seen from that nation has made it out to be entirely miserable and wretched, and I thought something with a lower body-count than 'Na Srebrnym Globie' (1977) or 'Dekalog' (1989) would give me a brighter perspective.  That it was a cult film, I found marginally less encouraging, as that occasionally means it's a treat, but sometimes denotes something nobody could like accidentally.

I'm reluctant to use the English language title, 'Teddy Bear', as I can't believe it's a very accurate translation.  The giant straw animal, which has no effect on characters or plot, may be a bear but resembles no teddy I've ever seen, and I suspect it hails from a different tradition entirely.  The movie regards a man called Ryszard racing his ex-wife Irena to Britain and withdraw a small fortune the pair lodged in an English bank.  At the start she damages his passport, making swift passage through the iron curtain almost impossible, and the body of the film shows his elaborate but almost feasible plan to get to Britain, a scheme which requires him to find his exact double, and cause that double to lose his hair.

Distressingly, the subtitles were all in yellow comic sans.
The film was interesting, rather than enjoyable, which isn't ideal for a comedy .  Actually, I'm afraid it's interesting, rather than interesting, as it didn't keep my attention as well as I'd hoped.  Since amazon reviewer Richard J. Brzostek describes it as 'a hilarious comedy', I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, though, as it's possible I just don't get it; it's a satire on a political situation of which I'm almost entirely ignorant.  There are several scenes either presenting ridiculous exaggerations of aspects of life in communist Poland, or else giving a rye, unexaggerated look at exactly what happened in those days - and I couldn't tell which of these was being presented.

Either way, this is a Poland of austerity, cunning, and government excess, the latter to present a propagandist suggestion of prosperity, hence the giant toy bear.  In this picture of Poland, meat is so hard to come by that people have to go to the theatre to see a joint, and restaurants chain their cutlery to the table, but in such a way that only one person can use a spoon at once, as when one person pulls to make the chain longer, their partner's chain gets shorter.  I've been told this latter point was a real feature in some Polish cafes, but I'm not sure I believe it.

A teddy-bear?
The film does one thing that I like very much: I've long enjoyed foreign films' portrayals of Britain, which offer a surprisingly rare chance to see what stereotypes the world has of us.  Here, the British seem very calm and placid, in stark contrast to the manic Ryszard; bank clerks in London are prone to going on strike, but do so very politely and very meticulously, sitting quietly in their booths until the exact second their strike is due to end, before carrying on with their business.  Also, the British speak English, but with Polish accents.  For anyone else curious to see British stereotypes in European films, I'd recommend 'Laissez-Passer' (2002), a fine French movie set in the film industry of occupied Paris in the 40s, which surprised me with a sudden trip to England and a trio of petulant interrogators who won't stop making unwanted tea.  Ah, but now I'm talking about the wrong film, so shall stop here.

P.S. Wikipedia claims this film was out in 1980, but IMDB says 1981.  I've gone with the earlier date, as it suits my purposes.  I have two pretty exciting possibilities for 1981, but my backup for 1980 is famously awful.

This isn't the version of the DVD I saw, so the quality, not least of the subtitles, may be higher

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