Hope for a Brighter Future

in 4th goEast Film Festival

by Steven Yates

The Poland portrayed in Jerzy Stuhr’s satire Pögoda Na Jutro (Tomorrow’s Weather) may not be the nation we recognise from the West or even within Poland itself, but then his anarchic comedy makes its own rules to portray the sacrifice of one man for the traditional values that he believes in. Jerzy Stuhr casts himself as the main protagonist, the antihero Joséf Koziol who 12 years ago – while on the run from the communist state for an insignificant crime – hid in a monastery, leaving behind his wife and three young children. Now in the present, he replaces a sick priest so that the monks can perform in a shopping area. However, he didn’t count on his wife being there and she tells his fellow monks the real reason why ‘Brother Joséf’ entered the monastery. The scandal causes him to be thrown out of his hideaway and back into society. With nowhere to go except back to his former family home, Joséf finds that a new ‘father’ has replaced him and he is forced to sleep in the garage while he begins his redemption. It is here he begins to learn how everything has changed for the worse since he has been away.

Joséf subsequently discovers that the new Poland – the political system, the media, ethical and moral values – has changed almost beyond all recognition, not least in his own family. His son Marcin (played by Jerzy Stuhr’s own son Maciej) is involved in a sleazy political campaign; his daughter Ola is known nationally for her titillating TV studio performances; his youngest daughter, Kinga, is only interested in the internet and the drugs her dealer boyfriend supplies. To make matters even worse, Joséf’s wife is acquainted with a criminal who illegally supplies her material needs. Realising that he faces an almost impossible task to recover any part of his lost years, he makes himself useful by getting a job as driver for his estranged son’s political party leader. The right-wing party is everything that Joséf is against, but he has to swallow his pride by taking the job, hoping to win his son over to his beliefs. Joséf’s best intentions are faced with hostility or indifference by the members of the family who scorn at his outdated views and principled nature. However, there is hope at the end as events take a turn that brings retribution to all the corrupt people that were influencing his family, and the family is hilariously reunited when they all become patients at the hospital where he used to work. Joséf is at last able to give them good news before he prepares to step outside society again.

Jerzy Stuhr is something akin to a popular star in Poland, a country that doesn’t create a star system of its own. This has come largely through his acting and directorial achievements rather than for possessing film star good looks. Stuhr has worked with the directorial greats in Poland, both in theatre and the cinema, so has been diligent in mastering his craft. He came to public attention in the Poland of the 1970s as an actor in the theatre. As his reputation grew he also progressed into film acting, most memorably in the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski after first appearing in his Blizna (The Scar, 1976) and then a central role in the thought provoking Amator (Camera Buff, 1979). It was when Stuhr wrote the screenplay for Spokój (The Calm Before the Storm, 1980) that he emerged out of acting and into being an author of the works he appeared in. The screenplay for this Kieslowski directed TV film was actually written in 1976 but shelved for four years. Spokój is of interest here because the story concerns a young man who leaves prison after a three-year sentence to start a new life in a town where he is not known. He hopes for a job, a wife and a family and partially succeeds but then runs into trouble on a construction job when he is caught halfway between the corrupt boss and fellow workers secretly planning a strike. With Pögoda Na Jutro it would seem that Stuhr has come full circle with his candid observations of Polish society, but where Spokój was intense drama, Pögoda Na Jutro is merely satire with some nods to Francois Ozon’s Sitcom (1998) in its depiction of family life.

As author, this is Stuhr’s film, quite conceivably a project he has always wanted to make considering his input as writer (though the little known Mieczyslaw Herba co-wrote the screenplay) and the screen-time he gives himself as there are hardly any scenes where he is not present, underlining his training in theatre as a character actor. Pögoda Na Jutro depicts the new Poland as a world which is both hilarious and cruel, but the slapstick humour here hides the stark warning of the society Stuhr’s home country could become when it enters the European Union. The comedy is gentle and we can not help but align ourselves to this man as he attempts to save society from itself but Stuhr’s film is not as innocent it may seem and his underlying criticism is omnipresent throughout.