“Johnnie the Aquarius,” an offbeat tale of a philosophical Polish peasant who suddenly finds he can perform miracles, is a slight but unusual charmer sustained by fine perfs and an inventive script. Though overlong, this fourth feature of Jan Jakub Kolski should please festgoers and attract a modicum of small-screen sales.
Johnnie/Jancio (Franciszek Pieczka) is an aging, slightly spaced-out country dweller who’s so tuned into the joys of life and nature that he hangs his young wife, Weronka (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska), upside down after they’ve had sex to make sure gravity does its job.
One day, he watches in amazement as his water pail climbs a ladder and settles into a bird’s nest. Taking this as a sign of divine powers, Jancio leaves his now-pregnant wife and sets off to perform healing miracles. He is feted by the locals as a neo-divine figure and quickly builds a harem of camp followers and a lucrative business.
With Weronka about to give birth, Jancio, by now a serious ego case, pays a brief visit home, followed by his massive entourage. When the child arrives, however, it’s born with a tail, which even Jancio’s powers can’t get rid of. He’s also slowly deserted by the locals as the afflictions he’s supposedly healed start to come back. A curse put on the village by a wandering tramp (Olgierd Lukaszewicz) has finally found its mark.
Recurrent joy of the pic is how all the crazy goings-on are treated as absolutely normal by the peasants. When Jancio heals a girl with festering eyes, maggots crawl out and are snapped up by a hungry crow.
Kolski aims for a form of folk-tale simplicity, with a strong overlay of straight-faced Slavic irony, that hits almost all its targets. Visually, the pic is largely naturalistic; its special flavor derives more from the sparse dialogue, pitched almost at the level of a nativity play at times, fine ensemble playing by all the cast, Zygmunt Konieczny’s gentle score and the natural integration of human and animal life.
Pieczka is perfect casting as Jancio, moving from a soft-spoken dreamer to bellicose despot in one easy stride. In a largely blank part, helmer’s wife, Blecka-Kolska, performs her own miracles of underplaying. Lukaszewicz and Boguslaw Linda play off well against the two leads. Technically, the Polish TV-financed pic is smooth in all departments.