The complex, self-referential structure of Andrzej Wajda's long-gestating "Sweet Rush" is worth pondering, but the emotional elements largely slip through the master's fingers.

The complex, self-referential structure of Andrzej Wajda’s long-gestating “Sweet Rush” is worth pondering, but the emotional elements largely slip through the master’s fingers. Slated as an adaptation of a postwar story about a middle-aged woman mourning the past who’s now suddenly taken with a young man, pic was held up in production when the star Krystyna Janda’s husband became terminally ill. After his death, thesp and helmer decided to graft her self-scripted monologue about processing the grief onto this period tale, acting as a non-specific commentary on the original film. Results prove interesting but diffuse, hampering even Euro arthouse play.

The confluence of key moments in film history present in “Sweet Rush” make the mind reel: Pic is dedicated to Edward Klosinksi, Janda’s late husband and the d.p. on such milestones as “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron,” both directed by Wajda and starring Janda. Wajda himself is glimpsed shooting the period story here, and Janda’s character at one point lends her would-be protegee a copy of Jerzy Andrzejewski’s “Ashes and Diamonds,” the source material for the helmer’s 1957 prizewinner.

In addition, “Sweet Rush” is Wajda’s fourth adaptation of a work by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. All these references will come easily to the arthouse crowd, but they’re not enough to overcome the disjointed nature of the result, and though home biz should be fruitful, the pic is unlikely to be well sold in other territories.

Following images of the eponymous sweet rush, or reed, over the credits, pic cuts to Janda in a hotel room that consciously recalls the dark, still spaces of an Edward Hopper painting. Janda moves around the room, often with her head turned from the camera or in “lost profile,” talking about her husband’s initial diagnosis and swift decline, as well as her inner turmoil in the weeks preceding and following his death.

The period section starts with Marta (Janda), who has a warm but distant relationship with her husband, the local doctor (Jan Englert). He discovers she has lung cancer but prefers to keep quiet about her disease and its deadly prognosis. Marta never recovered from the death of their two sons during the war, and the pic is infused with Marta’s yearning for that pre-invasion time as well as Wajda’s own nostalgia for the early 1950s, when memories and lifestyles from the decades earlier hadn’t yet been erased by communism’s dull-hued iron grasp.

While strolling with a friend, Marta spies Boguslaw (Pawel Szajda), a strapping youth of 20 exuding the freshness of life. Drawn to the simple, unambitious young man, she offers to act as his mentor; the relationship is an uneven one, his respectful pose mismatched by her inchoate attraction, at once sexual and maternal.

Marta wants to collect rushes for the feast of Pentecost, a ritual celebrating the passage from spring into summer and thus a festival of life. However, a quotation from Iwaszkiewicz’s story at the start explains that the sweet rush smells at first of living nature, but when crushed, exudes the odor of loam, and death.

Wajda has a lot of material to work with in the main story: nostalgia, aging, sexuality and approaching death, among others. By periodically breaking it up with Janda’s painful personal monologue, he lessens the impact of both, tackling too many issues and diluting the power of the words and the performance. Janda is a great actress, and even with her back to the camera, she exudes a wounded gravitas, but the force of her lines would be significantly heightened had this been a stand-alone short.

For the monologue, Wajda keeps the camera completely still, closed in on the darkened room, which is illuminated solely by artificial sunlight coming in through the windows. The period section is opened up, lensed by ace d.p. Pawel Edelman (“The Pianist”) to take advantage of the sweeping landscape; lighting is especially fine, as are Pawel Mykietyn’s musical compositions.

Sweet Rush

Poland

Production

An Akson Studio, Telewizja Polska, Agencja Media Plus production. (International sales: Akson Studio, Warsaw.) Produced by Michal Kwiecinski. Executive producer, Katarzyna Fukacz-Cebula. Co-producers, Slawomir Jozwik, Dorota Kosmicka, Leszek Andrzej Wyszynski, Waldemar Dabrowski. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Screenplay, Wajda, Krystyna Janda, based on the novella by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and the story "A Sudden Call" by Sandor Marai.

Crew

Camera (color), Pawel Edelman; editor, Milenia Fiedler; music, Pawel Mykietyn; production designer, Magdalena Dipont; costume designer, Magdalena Biedrzycka; sound (Dolby Digital), Jacek Hamela; casting, Ewa Brodzka. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 12, 2009. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Krystyna Janda, Pawel Szajda, Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Julia Pietrucha, Jan Englert, Roma Gasiorowska.

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