Of the pics made from scripts either written or co-written by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, “The Big Animal” most shares the Polish filmmaker’s spirit. Directed by Kieslowski’s favorite actor, Jerzy Stuhr, “The Big Animal” deliberately conjures up the mid-’70s period of the Polish Communist era in which the script was originally drafted as one of Kieslowski’s few straightforward adaptations (from Kazimierz Orlos’ novel). Unfortunately, the extras don’t explore how Stuhr finished Kieslowski’s draft or why Stuhr and cinematographer Pawel Edelman chose to shoot in black-and-white.
The film is essentially a droll yet sad fable about Zygmunt, a humble bank clerk (Stuhr) whose calm and content life is changed when a camel, left behind by a traveling circus, enters his front yard. First the object of mirth and pleasure in the small town, Zygmunt’s camel is soon rejected, along with its owner. No Pole then (or now) would have missed the tale’s pointed themes of the cost of non-conformity and the difficulty of the individual to assert himself over the group.
It’s fair to guess that because Stuhr had worked so closely in the past with Kieslowski, including co-writing the dialogue for “Camera Buff,” this project likely felt like a natural extension of the work they had already done. And the B&W lensing can be read as a throwback to the look and feel of ’60s and ’70s Polish cinema, while also preserving the fable’s timeless and universal qualities.
Extras include a relaxed 31-minute interview with Stuhr and Polish Television host Nina Terentiew, a four-minute promo short on the film and an extremely useful 20-page PDF-format pressbook.
Two other pics have been made from Kieslowski’s scripts since his death 10 years ago. But Tom Tykwer’s “Heaven” and Danis Tanovic’s “Hell” felt sensationalized, overdone and lacking Kieslowski’s more sensitive touch.
“The Big Animal” is both the last of the line of the true Kieslowski films, but paradoxically also his first, conceived on paper long before he became honored and revered.