Film Review: ‘Summer Solstice’

Michal Rogalski's sophomore feature provides a searing portrait of the summer of 1943 in provincial Poland under German occupation.

Filip Piotrowicz, Jonas Nay, Urszula Bogucka, Maria Semotiuk, Steffen Scheumann, Gerdy Zint, Bartlomiej Topa, Agnieszka Krukowna, Juliusz Warunek. (Polish, German, Russian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3526924/

A nuanced and compelling historical drama/coming-of-ager, “Summer Solstice” provides a searing portrait of the summer of 1943 in provincial Poland under German occupation. The story unfolds through the eyes of two 17-year-old boys, the Polish railway worker Romek (Filip Piotrowicz) and the German military policeman Guido (Jonas Nay), who both experience a shocking loss of innocence. Bowing at the Montreal World Film Festival (where it nabbed the screenplay award) before its upcoming stops at Poland’s Gdynia and Germany’s Hof fests, this impressive sophomore effort from writer-director Michal Rogalski should be a hot title for sales agent Wide Management.

Simple country boy Romek tries to help his mother (Agnieszka Krukowna) eke out a living during this time of uncertainty and anxiety. His father, who was an engine driver for the railway, has been missing for several years. Romek works as assistant to his father’s former colleague, Leon (Bartlomiej Topa), who alternately torments and teaches the lad. Leon, an opportunist, who is keeping company with Romek’s mother, also has an eye out for the goods the deported Jews were forced to abandon along some of the track he drives.

Romek may be mostly silent and unsophisticated, but he has strong survival skills, displaying the patience to watch, wait and listen for the right moment. But unfortunately, he cannot find the right moment with pretty Franka (Urszula Bogucka), the daughter of a rich farmer.

It’s handsome Guido who tickles Franka’s fancy, even though they don’t speak the same language. He’s a sensitive city lad who is being punished for his love of jazz, bebop and swing — forms of music deemed degenerate by his country’s leader — and forced to serve in the military police where he is by far the youngest among rougher types. Guido, too, has an older mentor, Odi (Gerdy Zint), who adopts a rather laissez-faire attitude toward his duties, until their troupe comes under the command of a sadistic Oberleutnant (Steffen Scheumann) who brooks no disobedience.

In Romek’s village, a casual anti-Semitism holds sway. Early on, one of his co-workers says, “There’s no arguing about Hitler … he did free us from the Jews. Poles are going to be raising up statues in his honor.” Yet later we see that there are those who are willing to risk their lives to assist those in need.

As Romek roams the train tracks and the nearby forests to scavenge goods that might be useful for himself or his mother, he doesn’t seem to think about to whom these items once belonged or why they are abandoned. But one day he comes across Bunia (Maria Semotiuk), a young Warsaw woman who has escaped from a transport and begs for his help.

Director Rogalski, who won the Polish edition of the Hartley-Merrill competition with this complex and provocative script, also displays a keen visual sense that makes clever use of contrast. The fields of corn and hay that appear so idyllic and peaceful in the film’s opening moments turn into a shocking scene of carnage later. Likewise, the gentle river, with its many bends where one might rest and refresh, can also reveal an attacker or a dead body. And the woods where Romek is so at home also harbor Jews fleeing for their lives and dangerous Russian partisans. Rogalski also deserves praise for knowing when to cut, and letting the viewer’s imagination and an accomplished sound design conceive more powerful horrors than he could possibly show.

Mixing veterans and newcomers, the expert cast is totally in tune with the helmer’s intentions and the period setting. D.p. Jerzy Zielinski’s sun-dappled widescreen location lensing leads the top-notch craft credits.

Film Review: 'Summer Solstice'

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Sept. 2, 2015. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: “Letnie przesilenie”)

Production: (Poland-Germany) A Prasa & Film, Sunday Filmproduktion production, in co-production with Telewizja Polska, WFDiF, Odra-Film, Orka, Mafilm, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Synchron und Tonstudio Leipzig,dd with the support of the Polish Film Institute, Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Deutscher Filmforderfonds, Filmforderanstalt. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Maciej Strzembosz, Ewa Borgunska. Co-producers, Rene Frotscher, Eva-Marie Martens, Thomas Jeschner, Alexander Martens, Volker Zobelt.

Crew: Directed, written by Michal Rogalski. Camera (color, HD), Jerzy Zielinski; editors, Milenia Fiedler, Joanna Bruhl; music, Alexander Hacke; production designer, Janusz Sosnowski; art director, Wieslawa Chojkowska; costume designers, Anna Englert, Magdalena Rutkiewicz-Luterek; sound, Martin Witte; sound designer, Paul Rischer, associate producer, Maria Golos; casting, Marta Kownacka.

With: Filip Piotrowicz, Jonas Nay, Urszula Bogucka, Maria Semotiuk, Steffen Scheumann, Gerdy Zint, Bartlomiej Topa, Agnieszka Krukowna, Juliusz Warunek. (Polish, German, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Isnt It Romantic

    The Rom-Com Is Dead. Long Live the Rom-Com (Column)

    The romantic comedy as we’ve known it may well be on its last legs. There is now a whole generation that sees through its synthetic stylings and princess fakery — and, more than that, feels fundamentally insulted by them. Yet “Isn’t It Romantic,” the beguiling meta version of a kitschy-koo romantic comedy, proves (among other [...]

  • Atmosphere91st Annual Academy Awards, Governors Ball

    Inside the 2019 Oscar Parties

    Stars party all around Hollywood before, during, and after the Oscars. Here, Variety hits the town to give you the inside scoop on all the star-studded soirées. Keep checking back throughout the weekend for the latest updates… Variety x Armani Beauty Makeup Artistry Dinner Sunset Tower, Los Angeles, Feb. 20Variety and Giorgio Armani Beauty honored makeup artists Molly [...]

  • 'Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ Heads

    'Monty Python's Life of Brian' Gets 40th Anniversary Release (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” is heading back into movie theaters to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the classic comedy film. Trafalgar Releasing took the rights to the film last year. The event cinema specialist is planning a 400-screen release on April 18 that will span the U.K. and U.S. as well as territories [...]

  • Korea's CJ CGV Switches Turkey CEOs

    Korea's CJ CGV Switches Turkey CEOs as It Battles With Local Industry

    Yeun Seung-ro has been appointed as CEO of CGV Mars Entertainment, the Korean-owned company that operates Turkey’s largest cinema chain. He replaces Kwak Dong Won, another veteran of the CJ-CGV group. The change of personnel may reflect two ongoing battles within the Turkish film industry. CJ-CGV, which bought Mars for some $650 million in 2016. [...]

  • Woody Allen Developing Next Film With

    Woody Allen Teams With Spain’s Mediapro for Next Film

    MADRID — Woody Allen is re-teaming with Spain’s Mediapro, one of Europe’s biggest independent film-TV companies, to develop his next film with an eye it seems to shooting in Spain. Mediapro co-financed and co-produced two of Allen’s highest-grossing movies, 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which grossed $96.4 million worldwide, and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris” which earned [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content