Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Celebrated Polish director Andrzej Wajda was already pushing toward more youthful themes in the last of his war trilogy, Ashes and Diamonds. In that story of the immediate post-war environment, young Zbigniew Cybulski is a rather anachronistic hipster with an Elvis hairdo and giant JKF sunglasses. 1960's Innocent Sorcerers is a freewheeling "young men on the town" tale of a jazz group who work days and play the clubs at night. Cybulski this time is the best friend of the leading character, a cocky young sports doctor grown tired of easy access to female companions.
Bazyli (Tadeusz Lomnicki) has it made. A recent medical school graduate, he has a tiny pad of his own right in town and rides a scooter to his arena job, where he spends his days checking out amateur boxers and fending off a small harem of female admirers. He and his pals constitute a jazz ensemble and enjoy enormous popularity at a competitive concert; jazz is the current rage in Warsaw. Drummer Bazyli flirts with a reporter (Kalina Jedrusik) who makes it clear she's interested in a date. He brushes her off, as well as his old girlfriend Mirka (Wanda Koczeska). Then Bazyli's best pal Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski) asks his help in cornering a dreamboat he's spotted in a club. They manage to separate her from her date. Bazyli accompanies her to the station only to find she's missed her train. The girl is Pelagia (Krystyna Stypulkowska) and her secret is that she plays hard-to-get. She easily counters Bazyli's attempts to control the situation. Bazyli is fascinated and surprised when she accompanies him back to his apartment. During the course of the night, they play flirtatious but innocent games, and the rogue male Bazyli finds himself hooked in a way he never thought possible.
Warsaw is still a wreck but Bazyli and his hipster elite couldn't have it better. Employed young men with money to spend cram into the clubs, and a breezy jazz musician is a key target for every ambitious girl in sight. Bazyli's pals are a band of nosy lay-abouts that can be depended on to make an unwelcome racket in the courtyard below his window; they're not unlike Federico Fellini's wastrels in I Vitelloni. One of them is played by the young Roman Polanski.
One of the boxers Bazyli examines is played by screenwriter (and soon-to-be director) Jerzy Skolimowski, a talent known for the cult film Deep End as well as Moonlighting. Skolimowski also acts occasionally, as in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! where he plays the loony professor with the translating machine. Many of Skolimowski's screenplays are about loneliness and alienation, forces deeply felt in Innocent Sorcerers. Bazyli knows he's practically the coolest guy in town and takes women for granted. He behaves like a cad with Mirka and throws away the journalist's number as soon as she's gone. Only when something comes along that Bazyli can't have for the asking does he realize how lonely he is. Rather like Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, we share Bazyli and Pelagia's unexpected night together and watch him rediscover his emotions.
It's an intriguing first date. Pelagia is a bit of a coquette but never a tease; she's quick to demonstrate that she's his intellectual equal, apparently having run up against plenty of guys convinced that girls are stupid. Bazyli plays it as honestly as he can, mainly because Pelagia is too clever to give him easy-to-read signals.
The showdown comes when the pair somehow begins tossing a matchbox in the air, and trying to make it land balanced on one of the smaller sides. Without either party forcing the issue, the game becomes a dare, and then a game of "strip matchbox". Bazyli is an early loser but rallies, revealing cracks in Pelagia's impressive show of nerve. Bazyli could easily win but Pelagia has stirred something deeper in him. Later, as dawn comes up, Bazyli wakes, realizes that Pelagia is gone, and he feels the kind of panic that only someone desperately in love can feel. Bazyli starts a frantic search in the empty streets ...
Innocent Sorcerers captures a certain bohemian state of existence in Warsaw that may have lasted only a few years, if that long; Wajda and Skolimowski's film is obviously aimed at recording a particular 'scene' before it slips away. We're taken by the essential innocence of the young men and women alive in a new world far removed from the wartime fears and horrors of their parents' experience. It doesn't matter that the streets are grim and gray or that Bazyli's bachelor pad is a miserable hole in the wall with cracked plaster and cheap, broken furniture. They're free and young and on their own, and what could be better? Innocent Sorcerers is a positive experience.
It's also a great place to hear the work of one more major contributor to Polish filmmaking at this time, composer Krzysztof Komeda. He was known in America only briefly as Roman Polanski's composer on Cul-de-Sac, Rosemary's Baby and the beautiful The Fearless Vampire Killers before his untimely early death in 1969. Komeda's jazz music gives Innocent Sorcerers a special life, forming an interesting contrast with the cobble-stoned streets. He plays himself briefly in the movie. We also hear a great club singer named Slawa Przybylska.
Polart Video and Facets Multimedia's DVD of Innocent Sorcerers is an adequate but disappointing presentation. The product provided was a test disc. The film is rare and we're grateful for the chance to see it, but the indifferent transfer appears to be a PAL conversion, annoyingly sped up from 24 to 25 frames per second. Fast dialogue becomes a staccato chatter. Also, the image exhibits an odd speed adjustment every few seconds, a flaw that repeated on two players. I hope it doesn't appear on final product, or there will be a lot of returns. Someone needs to tell Polart Video that the DVD market expects higher quality. Carefully remastered imports from other companies are priced much lower. Note, 6.16.06: Readers have written to tell me that final discs do not have this stutter problem. Facets has promised to send me only final product screeners from now forward. GE
As on all Facets releases there are no extras, so this reviewer doesn't know if an insert or liner notes are included. We're very glad we saw the film and may watch it again, but will keep our eyes out for an improved release. 1
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Innocent Sorcerers rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 22, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
1. A welcome note from Andrzej Winnicki, 6.16.06:
Hi Glenn, I enjoyed reading your review of this movie of Andrzej Wajda. Three points that may interest your readers:
1. This movie, while a personal favorite of mine (maybe because I'm a jazz musician and big fan of Krzysztof Komeda's music myself ), remains one of the most unknown to movie goers and fans of Andrzej Wajda in his native Poland. I've spent first 24 years of my life in Poland and never saw this film being played on TV or in the movie theater even once.
2. The names Bazyli and Pelagia are so uncommon in Poland, it is obvious the young doctor and the girl introduce themselves to each other with fake names as part of "the game." Then we understand better why "Bazyli" feels so panicky about her disappearance in the morning - he doesn't even know her real name.
3. We can also see another (besides Krzysztof Komeda) great polish jazz pianist - Andrzej Trzaskowski. He plays the trumpet in Bazyli's band in the movie. In the 1960s Trzaskowski recorded with many great American musicians including Stan Getz (1960) and Ted Curson (1965-6). -- Andrzej Winnicki
PS. I didn't notice any problems with odd image speed adjustments on my copy of the movie.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson