Review: ‘The Master’

A Polish road movie stocked with self-conscious lyricism that occasionally strikes a chord, "The Master" is a bit too immature to navigate the slippery terrain chosen by helmer Piotr Trzaskalski between reality and fantasy. This exotic but slow-moving tale may hit the bull's-eye with romantic viewers.

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The Master

Mistriz

Poland

An Opus Film production in association with Peter Rommel Prods./Atlas Sztuki/Polish Film Agency/Polish Television. (International sales: MDC Intl., Berlin.) Produced by Piotr Dzieciol. Executive producer, Lukasz Dzieciol.

Directed by Piotr Trzaskalski. Screenplay, Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka. Camera (color, Cinemascope), Piotr Sliskowski; editor, Cezary Kowalczuk; music, Wojciech Lemanski; production designer, Wojciech Zogala; costume designer, Monika Ugrewicz; sound (Dolby Digital), Jan Freda. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi), Sept. 20, 2005. (Also in Pusan Film Festival — World Cinema.) Running time: 110 MIN.

Master Konstantin Lavronenko

Angela Teresa Branna

Mlody Jacek Braciak

Anna Monika Buchowiec

With: Aurelia Georges.

By DEBORAH YOUNG

A Polish road movie stocked with self-conscious lyricism that occasionally strikes a chord, “The Master” is a bit too immature to navigate the slippery terrain chosen by helmer Piotr Trzaskalski between reality and fantasy. Russian thesp Konstantin Lavronenko lends substance to the title character, a carnival knife-thrower with supernatural talents, but neither his itinerant mini-circus nor his gruff love affair ever spring to life. On pic’s plus side, both the characters and the Polish countryside look attractive in beautifully lensed widescreen, which indicates that this exotic but slow-moving tale may hit the bull’s-eye with romantic viewers.

On a drunk one night, a Russian knife-tosser known only as the Master (Lavronenko, looking older but no less mysterious than in his fatherly role in “The Return”) lets all the circus animals out of their cages and locks himself inside. The next day, he is fired and so decides to take his shell of a mobile home on the road as a one-man Knife Circus.

He soon picks up a young accordion player, Mlody (Jacek Braciak), and the pretty Angela (Teresa Branna) whom he gallantly rescues from a life of prostitution. Traveling from town to town, the little show draws crowds to watch the Master’s amazing knife tricks, while he dreams of performing before enthusiastic auds in Paris.

A foreigner in Poland and a lone wolf, the Master harbors dark secrets behind his nightly binges. Eventually flashbacks clumsily explain he fought in Afghanistan during the war and was traumatized when his unit shelled a village full of children. A more compelling secret is his supernatural power to make objects levitate, a surprise script element that is used to fine effect in the closing scenes, only to be tossed away in favor of a childish finale that offers artificial closure.

In addition to the Master’s magic talents, his relationships with Angela and Mlody are underdeveloped in Trzaskalski and Wojciech Lepianka’s screenplay. They remain likeable but flat characters despite attempts to pump them up with unusual background details.

As his love interest, the small town beauty Anna (Monika Buchowiec) is too good to be true, and their unhappy love story is a gossamer affair that doesn’t seem real for a moment.

Only Lavronenko manages, and just barely, to give some depth to a man struggling with his inner devils and dreams of glory while refusing the real world. Here screen presence certainly counts.

Trzaskalski, who made his feature debut with “Edi,” has a film student’s fascination with eye-catching visuals and long traveling shots, which d.p. Piotr Sliskowski seconds in lyrically lit scope. One waits in vain, however, for dreamlike images such as camels and elephants loitering on a street corner to turn eerie in a sinister, Ray Bradbury way. Instead, Wojciech Lemanski’s light-hearted score is not a bad contrast to pic’s often gloomy atmosphere.

The Master

Poland

Production

An Opus Film production in association with Peter Rommel Prods./Atlas Sztuki/Polish Film Agency/Polish Television. (International sales: MDC Intl., Berlin.) Produced by Piotr Dzieciol. Executive producer, Lukasz Dzieciol. Directed by Piotr Trzaskalski. Screenplay, Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka.

Crew

Camera (color, Cinemascope), Piotr Sliskowski; editor, Cezary Kowalczuk; music, Wojciech Lemanski; production designer, Wojciech Zogala; costume designer, Monika Ugrewicz; sound (Dolby Digital), Jan Freda. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi), Sept. 20, 2005. (Also in Pusan Film Festival -- World Cinema.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Master - Konstantin Lavronenko Angela - Teresa Branna Mlody - Jacek Braciak Anna - Monika Buchowiec
With: Aurelia Georges.
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