1997 / Color / 1:78 flat letterbox / 87 min. / Historie milosne / Street Date May 22, 2007 / 24.95
Starring Jerzy Stuhr, Dominika Ostalowska, Irina Alfyorova, Karolina Ostrozna, Katarzyna Figura, Jerzy Nowak, Andrzej Hudziak, Henryk Golebiewski, Ryszard Sobolewski
Cinematography Pawel Edelman
Production Design Allan Starski
Film Editor Elzbieta Kurkowska
Original Music Adam Nowak
Produced by Jacek Bromski, Juliusz Machulski, Jacek Moczydlowski
Written and Directed by Jerzy Stuhr
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Actor/writer/director Jerzy Stuhr plays multiple roles in Love Stories (Historie milosne), an unusual drama with fantastic overtones. Each of the film's four concurrent plotlines features a different romantic problem. Stuhr is the main character in each, but his engaging personality deflects charges of cinematic narcissism. The serio-comic stories comment on our romantic insecurities -- more than one character admits that he's completely confused -- without becoming heavy-handed or pretentious.
A teacher (Jerzy Stuhr) receives a love note from his student Ewa Bielska (Dominika Ostalowska). She's so upset that she cannot concentrate on her studies. The teacher resists entering an awkward relationship but eventually finds himself offering to help her cheat on her oral exams. Colonel Matalowski (Stuhr) is told by his NATO commander to bring his wife to a fancy dinner. As they're all but separated she demands money to "play the devoted wife." A beautiful Russian teacher Tamara (Irina Alfyorova) then reenters his life; Matalowski had an affair with her years ago at the Olympics. Matalowski is ordered to terminate the relationship, while Tamara keeps reminding him of the old love letters she has saved. Drug smuggler Zdislaw Filip (Stuhr) has been betrayed by his flighty wife Kryska (Katarzyna Figura) and sent to jail. He misses sleeping with her so badly that he forgives her even after she disappears for the first four years of his sentence. Zdislaw tells Kryska where he's hidden his cash, so she can pay his fine. But can he trust her? A respected, well-adjusted priest (Stuhr) is visited by Magda, a runaway orphan (Karolina Ostrozna) who claims to be his daughter. When Magda's story checks out, the priest must decide what effect it will have on his vocation. His mother and the Bishop offer solutions that would allow him to ignore the daughter or have her taken care of elsewhere, but the priest is still undecided.
Love Stories is dedicated to Jerzy Stuhr's collaborator and mentor Krystof Kieslowski. Although lacking the depth of Kieslowski's haunting moral tales, the film compensates with Stuhr's own gentle take on relationships, as already witnessed in his eccentric fable-film The Big Animal. Each love story has its own little quirks. The teacher is repeatedly shown watching from high above as the attractive Ewa walks away from him. Is his little academic world that superior? Or is he foolishly letting Ewa slip away? Each story plays out in a separate time frame, with the criminal's tale covering years and the priest's only a few weeks. But they all seem to be happening in the same space, a feeling enhanced by tight inter-cutting and parallel structuring.
The stories suggest more dramatic fireworks than actually occur. The teacher's one fumbling romantic encounter with Ewa ends with him backing off and her running away in shame. The Colonel discovers that his beloved Tamara may be a spy preparing to blackmail him. And we wonder if the priest will collapse in despair, or if something terrible will happen to his daughter Magda. These fears are mostly not realized, although other revelations take their place. The story of the thief is almost a comedy, as he continually chooses to trust his wife despite evidence that she double-crosses him at every opportunity. She's just too sexy to resist.
The male point of view dominates every episode, resulting in female characters that are somewhat typed. Young Ewa is a beautiful neurotic, Tamara a quietly manipulating beauty and Kryska a clueless sexpot. Little Magda is also envisioned from the male POV, as sort of a conscience in kid form. Stuhr's four male characters are all hesitant and to varying degrees insecure, but they're all basically innocent.
Stuhr introduces fantasy elements that help connect the parallel story structure. Each of the four men visits an inquisitive, bald man (Andrzej Hudziak), who receives them in a library and asks personal questions about their love lives. He's listed in some references as "The Assistant Investigator" and functions as an emotional sounding board ... we all 'know' that men don't express their inner problems without prodding. In addition, a nondescript "Accountant" (Jerzy Nowak) appears at odd times to serve as an odd sort of Grim Reaper figure. In Stuhr's universe, mortals are given the bad news while riding in elevators.
Each man must make a definite moral choice. Two of them reject the women that interrupt their lives, and two accept their women unconditionally. Neither choice is always correct, and not all of the stories are cleanly resolved. The teacher, for instance, tells "The Investigator" that the desirable Ewa disrupts his organized, studious life. Is it a moral crime to bend the academic rules and accept her love?
MGE is apparently a Polish export DVD company breaking into the Region 1 American market. Their presentation of Love Stories is flat-letterboxed. The transfer may have been good but the encoding is sub-par, blurring details and giving the image a slightly dull look. It will play well on smaller monitors. The disc is formatted for both English and Polish viewers with removable English subtitles. There are no extras.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Love Stories rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Fair + / Good -
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 1, 2007
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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