The Birch Wood (1970) – Andrzej Wajda

As I return to DK Canada’s The Movie Book, I dive into the What Else to Watch list following my screening of Ashes and Diamonds.

Directed by the same film maker, Andrzej Wajda, The Birch Wood is a gentle character piece set in prewar Poland. The story follows Stanislaw (Olgierd Lukaszewicz), a young man suffering from tuberculosis who has come to his brother, Boleslaw’s (Daniel Olbrychski) far with one purpose. He’s there to die.

He arrives on the farm in the midst of a birch wood, to discover a house still in mourning as Boleslaw continues to deal with the loss of his wife the year before. Boleslaw has issues with her loss, as well as her relations with others, and it affects his own relationship with his own daughter.

Stanislaw’s love of music permeates the grey house, and his waning passion for life fires up the others on the farm, including beginning a relationship with a simpleminded farm girl, Malina (Emilia Krakowska) which in turn causes more grief between Boleslaw and Stanislaw.

As relationships, both brotherly and carnal are explored, the characters take solace in the birch woods, where Boleslaw’s late wife is buried, and where Stanislaw hopes to find his final resting place.

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Events will cause Boleslaw, to reevaluate his life, and come to accepting his past, and embracing his future.

It’s a very gentle, and slow-moving film that allows the characters time to grow and explore their relationships, their arcs, and the moments in their lives that will define them.

Wajda does a great job composing his images, and letting his characters explore the frame as well as their arcs, and about three quarters of the way through the film there is a very familiar dolly zoom, that would later become my favourite shot in Jaws.

I will admit that after delving into a lot of vampire films lately, and this one could have been a perfect set up for one, and you add in Stanislaw’s appearance, whose pale, ill complexion and ghastly smile would have been perfect for a vampire film.

It made for a nice change of gears, and I love the way I am learning about, and viewing films from all over the world. The Movie Book has proven to be an incredibly educational, and entertaining collection of classic cinema.

Make sure you check out a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book today, and find a classic film (one you may never even heard of! Or revisit) to watch tonight.

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