A youth from a poverty-stricken village in central Poland tries to deal with his bitter “Heritage” in this powerful albeit meandering epic of searing social realism from vet helmer Andrzej Baranski. Based on a cycle of semi-autobiographical novels by contempo author Zbigniew Masternak, the episodic tale memorably captures a period of transition for the country and a protagonist trapped between his origins and ambitions. Most resonant for the domestic market, the acutely observed and artfully crafted pic should also travel widely on the Polish-lingo circuit offshore.
Raised with great expectations by his drunken laborer father (Michal Aniol), who has never failed to tout their ancient noble pedigree, Zbyszek (Rafal Zawierucha) is mockingly dubbed “the Prince” by his loutish village neighbors. His promise as a soccer player never pans out, due to a knee injury; likewise, his law studies in Lublin fail, although he tries to hide this fact, especially from his mother (Aldona Jankowska). Eloquent and charming when he wants to be, but unable to grasp another passion that defines him, he finds his greatest success in lies and petty con schemes.
Returning to his stagnant birthplace, where the locals speak wistfully of the good old days under communism, Zbyszek briefly tries his hand at manual labor and mixes somewhat disdainfully with former acquaintances. Through his eyes, viewers vividly experience the realities of village life: its violence, poverty, superstition, alcoholism and lack of hope.
Known as a skilled adapter of Polish literature, Baranski remains faithful to the spirit of the novels, capturing their acerbic compassion, grotesque situations and ironic humor. Repping all these qualities, an episode that registers particularly strongly unfolds in Zbyszek’s rented Lublin digs, where, to his chagrin, a new roommate turns out to be a village classmate. When the drunken lads decide to order a prostitute, she, too, hails from their hometown — the girl whom everyone believed would become a successful model.
The cast consists of little-known stage and film thesps drawn from theaters across Poland, with those playing the older villagers especially notable for their hard-living, Brueghel-esque looks and peasant dialects.
Finely detailed assembly is led by Jacek Petrycki’s elegant and unflinching black-and-white lensing. Although there is no composer credit, the film makes use of the greatest hits of popular dance music group Bayer Full.