The sixth helming foray by actor Jerzy Stuhr, “Twists of Fate” reps a crisscrossing study of shifting mores in contempo Poland. Owing a big debt to the films of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, for whom Stuhr frequently worked, blind-chance-driven plot throws an amoral student into a collision course with a guilt-ridden professor who betrayed a friend during communist times. Political secrets-and-lies theme stirred controversy before local release, but for offshore auds, it’s just a serviceable drama. “Twists” met a modest B.O. fate on its Nov. 9 bow.
Young student Bartek (Amil Mackowiak) has the makings of first-class sleazoid businessman, a natural product (suggests Stuhr’s script) of Poland’s new, anything-for-a-zloty economy. Getting people to sit exams and write theses for others is just one of Bartek’s several dodgy but lucrative dealings.
On a train, he sees middle-aged academic Mezczyzna (Jan Frycz) staging what looks like his own disappearance, leaving his briefcase and coat inside the train and a door open so it looks like he fell out en route. But Bartek then spots Mezczyzna at a provincial station and follows him.
He’s helped in the pursuit by a friend’s sister, Ula (Katarzyna Maciag), whom Bartek takes a fancy to, despite the fact that he already has a long-suffering g.f., Kasia (Karolina Gorczyca).Bartek tricks Mezczyzna into confessing all: He betrayed a friend years ago to the secret police to get his rival off the scene and steal the latter’s girl, Irena (Aleksandra Konieczna). Meanwhile, Irena turns out to be Kasia’s dentist.
This is just one of several Kieslowskian coincidences that stitch the story together, but, sadly, the final reel doesn’t have the resonances of Kieslowski at his best. Instead, it has the ponderous feel of many attempts to bring the late Polish helmer’s unfinished scripts, abandoned plot outlines and old laundry lists to the screen (e.g. Tom Tykwer’s “Heaven” and Danis Tanovic’s “Hell”). Stuhr’s charming “Big Animal” was successfully based on a screenplay by Kieslowski, but “Twists” falls somewhat below that mark.
Plus points include sturdy thesping from the ensemble cast, with Mackowiak holding his own as the twitchy Bartek against brooding veteran Frycz. Stuhr himself contribs a vivid cameo as the president of Bartek’s university who, natch, knows both Mezczyzna and the man he betrayed. Moments of humor also leaven the proceedings.
Tech credits are polished without being particularly striking, although kudos are due to Elzbieta Kurkowska’s nimble editing, which seamlessly knits everything together.