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This 1954 Polish feature is like an Eastern European cousin to both The Grapes of Wrath and Norma Rae as it explores the trials and tribulations of Szczeny (Jozef Nowak), a peasant's son who, after his father sells his farm, attempts to find work in the "big city," only to come in contact with radicals and unions of various stripes and creeds.
A pallor of sadness and anger colors the entire production, as Szczeny find his every attempt to better himself stifled by the powers that be, as well as various warring unions, each with their own agenda. Interestingly, though this film is a product of the then newly-Communist Polish Republic, the "Reds" (as they're called here) are shown to be only one of several competing ideologies, though the tenor of the times makes sure that they are literally the "politically correct" one by the film's end.
Director Jerzy Kawalerowicz mounts a fluid and provocative production, full of interesting tracking shots, including some technically demanding ones, as well as guiding uniformly excellent and touching performances. Nowak, especially, with his intense gaze and features that look like a cross between Ralph Fiennes and Max von Sydow, is able to transition from rage to abject sorrow seamlessly, helping make his complex and not always likable character at least generally sympathetic. The production values are uniformly high, with some scenes utilizing hundreds of extras, and excellent on location footage of both the Polish countryside and several industrial sites is put to good use.
What defeats this particular DVD release is the condition of this print--obviously a second generation (at least) 35mm print in very bad shape (not just dirt and debris, but bad breaks in the film), and, incredibly, at about 30 minutes from film's end, with scenes (not even whole reels, strangely) out of place. A jump cut from Szczeny's love affair with his boss' wife to him suddenly being in the Army only becomes clear several minutes later, when the rest of the affair scene shows up and then he receives his draft notice. The whole last half hour of the film seems oddly disjointed beyond the misplaced scenes, leading me to believe there is some missing material as well. Add to that confusion extremely poor subtitles full of spelling errors and completely nonsensical translations, and whatever flow develops from the film itself is repeatedly interrupted.
However, there is definitely a lost classic lying beneath the detritus of this particular release. This film is as political as Eisenstein's, with the same visual flair. Perhaps somewhere in some Polish film archive a pristine negative awaits restoration and a decent DVD release.
The source elements for this release are in extremely poor shape. Scenes frequently appear spliced and there is almost constant damage to the image.
The sound fares somewhat better, with a fine mono soundtrack.
Some brief credits for Nowak and director Kawalerowicz, as well as a screen of other titles available from Facets, the distributor, are all that are offered. Some sort of historical context would have been immensely helpful in sorting out the various groups that Szczeny comes in contact with throughout the film.
Cellulose is a fascinating film and deserves some sort of restoration. This DVD release is a travesty, however, and is suitable only as a rental for those with a particular interest in Polish cinema or Communist propaganda of the 1950s.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet