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Tim Cawkwell's Cinema

Intelligible writing on intelligent film, plus some poetry

No question about Ryszard Bugajski's Interrogation/Przesluchanie (1982)

Occasionally a film about which you know nothing comes along and knocks you down. This is even more remarkable when it is 30 years old. It is what in Poland they call a polkownik or ‘shelf movie’, that is to say a film that was so explosive it had to be put on a shelf and not shown.

Bugajski made Interrogation in Poland in 1982 and finished principal photography a week before martial law was declared. He then buried the film, literally, in order to keep it from being destroyed. With the end of Polish Communism it resurfaced in 1989, being premiered in the UK in 1990, and was the official Polish entry at Cannes in 1990.

The story is compelling: in 1951 a young woman, Tonia Dziwisz, is arrested when she is drunk, and thrown into prison where the UBeks, a major and Lieutenant Morawski, try to force her to spill the beans on Olcha, a war resistance hero she had slept with, in a way that would condemn him to death, regardless of whether what she said was true or false. But it is not just the story that compels, but the way it is made. Much of it is in close-up, a style I am normally wary of, but Bugajski uses it to convey the visceral nature of mental and physical torture. There are some medium shots in the film, and towards the end a long shot is used to convey how distant the outside world has become. But mostly we see the faces of both victims and torturers wrestling with inner demons.

Is it true? Yes. It starts in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon territory, and develops into a cat-and-mouse psychological thriller. I think fiction takes over here, but it only shows how fiction is more powerful and more true than fact.

I never have nightmares, but this film gave me one. Highly recommended.

© Tim Cawkwell 2012

Note There is a fascinating mini-biography by Ruth G Nolan on the IMDB website: