Polish helmer Krzysztof Zanussi’s distinctive gift for blending life-and-death moral questions and the mundane rhythms of day-to-day life into provocative and intellectually satisfying drama is once again on triumphant display in “Supplement,” which spins off three characters from his tragically little-seen 2000 work “Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease” (which won the grand prize at the Moscow festival and was Poland’s foreign-language film Oscar entry). Though each plays independently from the other while sharing much of the same footage, pics cry out to be programmed together at fests, snapped up by smart distribs and made available on ancillary.
“Disease” focused on the ethical struggles of Tomasz Berg (soulfully rugged vet Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), a wry doctor who examines his own belief system as he succumbs to cancer. Along the way he’s dogged by earnest young medical student Filip (Pavel Okraska), who struggles to understand the differences between science and religion, and charmed by Hanka (Monika Krzywkowska), the costume wrangler on the period film for which Berg is the on-set medico.
Bulk of its narrative concerned Berg’s interaction with ex-wife Anna (Krystyna Janda). As the illness confines him to a hospital bed, Berg gives his apartment key to the young couple, who are then seen going to bed with a hesitant reverence that suggests they’ve had their difficulties reaching that point but are grateful to finally be there.
“Supplement” is an interlocking series of alternate encounters within the same timeframe that jettisons all of Anna’s footage while bringing the arduous relationship between Filip and Hanka front and center.
He’s a rock-climbing buff who is first seen leaving the monastery for his critical brother’s house in shame and trying to re-fit himself in the secular world, while she’s a practical and outgoing type who becomes increasingly exasperated with his inability to decide between the spiritual and the practical. His impulsive experiment with a mind-altering drug is a physical and moral disaster, while her attempts to go through the motions of life without him fall flat.
In this version of the final chapter in Berg’s life, the passing of the key thus assumes a greater significance, as it serves to bring the two together after an arduous courtship barely hinted at in the first film.
The unenlightened deride helmer’s work as philosophical soap opera, but for those on Zanussi’s wavelength, “Supplement” will be absorbing to the point of distraction. As in all his best films, these characters exist to be good-looking, emotionally sympathetic, articulate and inquisitive about the universe as they struggle to understand and then better themselves. Perfs are perfectly modulated with material and one another, as relative newcomers Okraska and Krzywkowska opt for methodical, endearing earnestness over the weary moral musings of wily old pro Zapasiewicz.
Tech credits from many Zanussi regulars are clean and uncluttered, allowing the private struggles of the characters to deservedly take center stage. It’s unclear how much of this footage is new and how much was shot for but not used in “Disease”; in any event, effect is seamless. Pic shared the Fipresci award at the recent Moscow fest with Alexander Rogozhkin’s “The Cuckoo.”