“The Birth of a Port” might be a more accurate title for the determinedly old-fashioned saga “Born of the Sea,” about the enterprising folks who built the bustling Polish trading city of Gdynia. Pic marks a mild return to features by veteran writer-director Andrzej Kotkowski, who seems to have made a romantic epic to promote Gdynia; the closing credits sequence is essentially a travelogue of the burg today. Eastern Euro-themed fests will provide main exposure for the pic, released locally last fall.
Centered on the tough-minded, handsome hero Krzysztof (Kuba Strzelecki) as he scrambles for work in the harbor, which is under construction, the film is something of a hybrid between “How the West Was Won” and Andrzej Wajda’s “Man of Marble,” featuring a broad, multicharacter historical tale and a swarthy man to admire.
Krzysztof falls in with crafty Wolodia (Pawel Domagala), who brings him into contact with Lucka (Julia Pietrucha). Her obstinate father, Agustyn (Marian Dziedziel), instantly dismisses Krzysztof as a good-for-nothing, unworthy of his daughter. Of course, this only forges a tighter bond between the extremely attractive couple (if Poland had a major film industry, Strzelecki and Pietrucha would be popular heartthrobs). And Krzysztof soon starts working for the team of French engineers designing a master plan for the port.
Years pass and fortunes rise and fall, all of it observed with cool distance by the growing town’s elegant restaurateur, Mrs. Helena (Malgorzata Foremniak), who would grab Krzysztof in an instant if Lucka weren’t around.
Kotkowski moves these characters about with professional skill if little imagination, with literal-minded insertions of historical events (e.g., the collapse of currencies preceding WWI). Germany geographically surrounds the port, which is slotted into a pocket of Polish territory, and growing tensions play out in predictable fashion, with Agustyn the biggest victim.
Nothing expresses the film’s cornball nature as immediately as Tomasz Gassowski’s bombastic score, as well as a scene in which Krzysztof nearly boards a U.S.-bound ship to emigrate, before Lucka catches his eye and draws him back. Without the fine chemistry between Strzelecki and Pietrucha, much of this would be hard to take; with it, the viewer at least has some pretty faces to watch.