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And a Warm Heart

A godless Polish capitalist has his blood pump in the wrong place in "And a Warm Heart," a labored comedy-drama in which a cardiac transplantat is a medical and symbolic necessity. Vet helmer Krzysztof Zanussi's latest is a surprisingly simplistic morality tale that offers few laughs and even less involving drama.

Cast:
With: Bohdan Stupka, Szymon Bobrowski, Marek Kudelko, Krzystof Kowalewski, Borys Szyc, Maciej Zakoscielny, Stanislawa Celinska, Marta Zmuda-Trzebiatowska.

A godless Polish capitalist has his blood pump in the wrong place in “And a Warm Heart,” a labored comedy-drama in which a cardiac transplantat is a medical and symbolic necessity. Vet helmer Krzysztof Zanussi’s latest is a surprisingly simplistic morality tale that offers few laughs and even less involving drama. Pic’s only bright spot is its performances — lead actor Bohdan Stupka won best actor at the Rome fest — but “Heart” is unlikely to have much pulse beyond its home turf and fests desperate for new work by a name director.

After the South America-set diplomat drama “Persona non grata,” and the Sicilian vendetta tale “Black Sun,” Zanussi finally returns home, though it does not mean a return to Poland’s “cinema of moral anxiety,” of which the 69-year-old helmer is one of the masters. Rather than sticking essentially decent people into prickly moral and material situations and then observing them with a sober thoughtfulness, the director of “Year of the Quiet Sun” and “Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease” here inverts his usual recipe by making an unrepentant capitalist his protag and a good man his foil.

At the bottom of Polish society, a working-class youth and saint-in-the-making, Stefan (Marek Kudelko), is fired from his job as a supermarket cashier for wanting to help old ladies who cannot pay for all their groceries. The same day, he is dumped by his g.f. (Marta Zmuda-Trzebiatowska) and loses the roof over his head.

Way at the top, supermarket mogul Konstanty (Stupka), an atheist, enjoys a life of excess without apologies or regrets. (“I can afford anything in the material and moral sense,” he states at one point, for those slow on the uptake.)

These two extremes, both extrapolated from an increasingly divided Poland, meet in a hospital where Stefan is taken after a suicide attempt and Konstanty is in observation after a sudden heart attack. In the screenplay’s most contrived twist, Konstanty sees in his former employee a way to bypass the waiting list for heart transplants, and asks his right-hand man, Angelo (Szymon Bobrowski), to assist Stefan in giving him what he wants.

Helmer’s saving graces are his actors. Top Ukrainian thesp Stupka (“East-West”) imbues Konstanty with a kind of latent dignity that has clearly been eroded by the system, but is still present somewhere deep down. As Stefan, newcomer Kudelko suggests someone who frequently over-analyzes but is also blessed with a sense of naivete and innate goodness.

Tech credits are so-so, with lensing of TV quality and an atypically generic score by Zanussi regular Wojciech Kilar. Though onscreen title was “And a Warm Heart,” press materials refer to pic as “With a Warm Heart.”

And a Warm Heart

Poland

Production: A Monolith Films release of a WFDiF presentation and production, in association with Tor Film Prod., Monolith Films, Sota Cinema Group. Produced by Wlodzimierz Niderhaus. Executive producer, Jewgienij Pugaczow. Co-producers, Krzysztof Zanussi, Mariusz Lukomski, Janusz Wachala. Directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. Screenplay, Zanussi, Andrzeja Mularczyka.

Crew: Camera (color), Adam Bajerski; editor, Wanda Zeman; music, Wojciech Kilar; production designer, Joanna Macha; costume designer, Ewa Helman-Szczerbic; sound (Dolby Digital), Maria Chilarecka; associate producer (Ukraine), Oleg Kochan; assistant directors, Zbigniew Gruz, Magdalena Szwarcbart, casting, Magdalena Szwarcbart, Alla Samojlenko. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Oct. 29, 2008. Running time: 100 MIN.

With: With: Bohdan Stupka, Szymon Bobrowski, Marek Kudelko, Krzystof Kowalewski, Borys Szyc, Maciej Zakoscielny, Stanislawa Celinska, Marta Zmuda-Trzebiatowska.

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