From the seemingly bottomless vault store of Andrzej Wajda’s films that have gone unreleased in the U.S. springs this serrated, farcical 1999 historical saga, based on Adam Mickiewicz’s nationalistic 19th-century poem (first adapted in 1928) about two Polish dynasties at each other’s throats as Napoléon approaches and promises to rid Poland of its Russian oppressors. Candy-colored, operatic, slapsticky, and mock-melodramatic, Wajda’s movie is as much a parody of epic costume histrionics as it is an indictment of visceral patriotism. Aside from his war trilogy (soon to be released in a Criterion set), Wajda has always loved throttling genre, and Pan Tadeusz virtually trembles with sub-Tolstoian earnestness, down to the declamatory sword brandishing and splenetic revenge oaths. (The veins in every forehead threaten to pop.) It’s a reckless, fun-loving mess, stubbornly faithful to the antiquated poetic dialogue and hammed up by a big-name Polskie filmy cast, dominated by Kieslowski vet Grazyna Szapolowska as a scheming matron and Boguslaw Linda as a scarfaced monk-provocateur. Coming from a small California outfit dedicated solely to Polish films, the disc offers no supplements at all.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005