Young Girls of Wilko
Vanguard // Unrated // $29.95 // August 26, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted October 13, 2003
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Movie: For better or worse, you don't get an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement unless you have a substantial body of worthy films underneath your belt, no matter how political the system may be. In the case of Polish director, Andrzej Wajda, he has earned his award, even received it much later in life than he should have, due in no small part to those aforementioned politics. The man makes movies that explore the darker side of life, not in terms of horror movies, just observations based on personal anecdotes of how people are, rather than the glossy version Hollywood would sell us as to how they should be. Such is the case with the recently released on dvd movie, Young Girls Of Wilko (Panny Z Wilka) from 1979.

The movie took a look at a man, Wiktor Ruben (Daniel Olbrychski), who is having a mid-life crisis after the death of a friend and co-worker on a farm. The movie is set during the mid 1920's in Poland where the events of WWI have mostly settled and the machinations of a certain German Chancellor have yet to take place. Wiktor retreats to his childhood town of Wilka that he had left years prior in order to find meaning in his life. He is unmarried with no children, and has seen a lot of life since he last visited over 15 years previously (even having served in many brutal battles while in the military). His arrival creates quite a stir among a group of women, all of whom had a crush on the man when he was younger. His return causes them to start soul searching as well since none of their lives turned out particularly well either, trading childhood dreams for the mundane lives they now occupy. As Wiktor visits with each of them , either singularly or in small groups, you see a dynamic take place where the ripple effect of the visit causes dissention among the women who are no longer "girls" as the translated title suggests (a more exact translation is supposed to be "maids" or "maidens").

Wiktor's Aunt and Uncle fuss at him for his lost opportunities to look beyond living for work only and attempt to get him to reclaim life by courting one of his former gal pals but he's set in his ways and the only true love he had died long ago. On one level he's content with a satisfying work life and on another he wants more but can't change this late in the game. The same seems to hold true to the females he was involved with, with perhaps one exception, and that forms the basis for the movie, which was based on the work of a poet, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (who had a cameo in the film).

The movie was more a series of social commentaries than a linear feature although it did all tie back in the end of the movie. Many of the ideas are applicable universally as well which made the movie appealing to a guy like me, one who could easily make the same mistakes as Wiktor did. In all, the movie was more like a series of portraits than some of Wajda's other works but aside from some slow points that could've used liberal editing, the movie was well made enough for me to rate it a Recommended. The themes were intelligently laid out and the acting was generally exceptionally good with fine direction by the Polish master.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen color. The biggest limitation was in the source material with all its scratches and minor defects. There was some grain and the colors were faded a bit on occasion. I didn't see a lot of artifacts or other problems with the dvd transfer, but there were a few noticed from time to time.

Sound: The sound was presented in a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS Polish track with optional subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian(?). It had some dropouts and flaws, it being so old and from a foreign source, but I was surprised at how cleaned up it was compared to some more recent releases by the folks at Vanguard.

Extras: There were ten interviews on the extras section of the dvd, mostly cast but also a couple from the director himself, which are rounded out by a photograph of some commemorative stamps issued in the director's honor, a letter from Steven Spielberg in support of his Academy award, trailers and other descriptors of various releases, and a double sided dvd cover.

Final Thoughts: The movie had a lot of replay value for me in terms of gaining something new each time I watched it. The movie was far from perfect or Wajda's best work but it was multi-layered enough where you could enjoy it for all its flaws, and they were minor flaws, over and over. I'll be looking for more of the director's works after having seen this one and I suggest you try a few out as well.

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