Laced with rich Polish irony and clearly showing the influence of Krzysztof Kieslowski, actor-turned-director Jerzy Stuhr’s third feature is an incisive analysis of the double standards and self-delusion apparently rampant in late-’90s Poland. Intelligent and subtle, “A Week in the Life of a Man” should certainly play the fest route in the months to come, and could also find theatrical slots in some territories.
Stuhr first came to attention as an actor in a number of provocative, anti-government, pro-Solidarity pics 20 years ago, playing lean, angst-ridden characters in Kieslowski’s “Camera Buff” and “Blind Chance” and Andrzej Wajda’s “Rough Treatment.” Now he has the well-fed look perfect for the hypocritical, weak-willed vacillator at the center of his new film. He’s a lawyer, working for the Polish equivalent of the DA’s office. Every morning, after his routine swim, he passionately prosecutes wrongdoers, barely aware that, in his private life, he is as guilty, if not more so, of similar crimes.
It’s a momentous week in the life of Adam Borowski. His new, accusatory book is being published; he is buying his dream house, after selling the apartment in which his wife was born; and he’s happily rehearsing as a member of a male choir about to go on a concert tour of Britain. On the downside, his mother is terminally ill, he finds himself in a financial bind, and his decision to end a longtime liaison with a beautiful young mistress doesn’t turn out quite the way he expected.
Meanwhile, his wife, Anna (Gosia Dobrowolska), who yearns for a child, is given a prestigious award for her work with orphans. Adam had expected a cash prize, which would have come in handy, because his bills are mounting up; instead, the award is in the form of a statuette. In addition, Anna feels the urge to adopt a handicapped child who has cottoned up to her in the orphanage.
During the course of the week, Adam prosecutes a young man for smuggling palm-top computers; a shabby young woman for abandoning her baby in a public toilet; a couple of vicious skinheads for beating up an Arab; and a young man for murdering his mother. Outside the courtroom, he plots to cheat the tax department with some underhanded charity donations; complicates the situation for the adopted child; refuses to pay for the expensive treatment his mother needs; and proves to be almost as bigoted as the skinheads, not in the racial sense, but against members of the left.
Adam is blithely unaware of the ironies swirling around him, and, despite his good intentions regarding infidelity on Monday, by the following Saturday falls easy prey to a couple of deliciously desirable journalists who photograph him in a compromising position for blackmail purposes. And all the while the choir rehearsals continue, despite the fact that one of the singers, a close friend of Adam’s, is mentally ill. More irony: The piece the choir is rehearsing is a musicalization of a speech from Hamlet — “What a piece of work is a man!”
Stuhr perfectly conveys the ambiguities and self-delusion of his character and provides the film with a strong center. Dobrowolska, working in a Polish film for the first time in 18 years, after making a name for herself in several Australian and Canadian pics, is mature and confident as the long-suffering wife, and her big scene of tearful anger is perfectly pitched. Other members of the cast, most of them unidentified both onscreen and in press material, are flawless down the line.
Film is professionally packaged, with fluid photography by Edward Klosinski and a subtle music score by Wojciech Kilar.