The movie is an experimental film made in 1968 Poland. On its surface, it was a movie about the death of an actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, who died in an accident with a train. If you dig a bit deeper, the movie was much more about the director himself and his relationship with other actors, to the point where each chapter is named after various performers. The death itself is almost not of consequence compared to how Wajda looks at his personal relationship with a variety of actors in a number of settings. How much of the film was fiction and how much is fact, at least as of the time the movie was made, remains a mystery to this film buff but it was indeed a very personal film on almost all levels. That made it even more obscure than most such movies from the director, to the extent that an English language audio commentary might've been a good idea. Luckily, there was a director interview, which helped flesh out parts of what he was trying to achieve with the film.
The main experiment here was that the actors improvised most of the dialogue after Wajda provided them with general guidelines. He ended up shooting a lot of scenes and discarding them when they didn't all contribute to the big picture. He mentioned the importance of editing in the film, given its nature, and it was obvious the movie was crafted out of a thought about the relationship between the director and his actors but also about how people deal with death of a sort. So, while the film is tentatively about the death of Cybulski, a man Wajda had worked on several times before the death in 1967, it is about far more than that too. I've watched it twice and only managed to gleam a bit of truth out of it but those who enjoy a good challenge might appreciate it all that much more because of this fact.
So, how do I rate this DVD? That's a question that even I'm not overly comfortable with at this point. I enjoy movies for a myriad of reasons and not usually for the mental challenge. If that were the case, I'd still be trying to figure out what drugs would help me understand the Matrix movies better. So, in light of all this, I'm going to suggest this one as a Rent It with the proviso that some of you will feel Wajda's genius shone through and others will be like I was (before I watched the interviews at least) and scratching their heads.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen color. It looked its age with a number of print scratches and other flaws as well as some number of artifacts added on with the DVD transfer. The colors were a bit muted but I think that may have been intentional on the part of Wajda and the variety of experimental camera techniques may have included intentionally messing with the picture. Some soft focus issues rounded out the look of the film and considering the age of the movie and it's budget, it looked okay.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS Polish with a variety of optional subtitles (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Polish or none at all). Upon researching the film, I'm led to believe it was originally in monaural so the remastered track really didn't add much although it did help clean up the audio flaws, which included drop outs, a mix that was off in several spots, and a limited dynamic range.
Extras: The primary extra was the number of interviews by the cast and crew. In all, there were seven, which is cool considering the usual lack of such interviews on older films. There was a section for trailers of other releases, a picture of some postage stamps made in 2000 of the director, a copy of a letter by director Steven Spielberg, a short slide show of the director getting an award, and photos of his night at the Oscars.
Final Thoughts: I've seen a couple of American movies that used aspects of this film so I can say that it was an influential work but it was much more difficult to access than the typical fare a guy like me is designed to appreciate. If you like film for the sake of film, and a somewhat slanted look at the relationships between a director and various, typically vain, actors, this will be a must see movie for you. Most people will want to pass it up though but it had a lot of merit for students of the process.