In October 2011, the Polish film Róza (Rosa), directed by Wojciech Smarzowski who has two other award-willing feature films to his credit, The Wedding, and The Dark House, received the Grand Prix at the 27th Warsaw FilmFest, and the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. The juries spoke again on March 2012 when Rosa won seven more awards, including Best Picture, at the 14th Polish Film Awards.
Rosa is a tragic yet ultimately cathartic love story set in Masuria, a lake region bordering East Prussia and Poland that after WWI was divided between Poland, Germany and Lithuania, and after WWII, between Poland and the Soviet Union. Masuria was first settled around the 13th c by a people who over time developed a distinctive Masurian language, culture, and customs. After the founding of the German Empire in 1871 and the onset of Germanization, most came to identify as German while a few retained a Polish identity. Fast forward to 1945: Poland is now part of the Soviet bloc, which plans to erase any ties with Germany and build a homogenized Polish nation. The Masurians are told that the Polish-speaking among them will count as part of the communist nation provided they sign a “nationality verification” paper, while the rest—which is most of the population—will be expelled to Germany.
The film echoes this tension as Tadeusz (Marcin Dorocinski), a Polish member of the Home Army whose wife is raped and killed by a German soldier during the 1944 Warsaw uprising, meets Rosa, a German-leaning Masurian whose husband, Johann, is killed in the same battle. Tadeusz (Tadek) leaves Warsaw, because it has been leveled, leaving him a homeless widower, while Roza tenaciously hangs on to her farm, her spirit intact, her body violated by numerous soldiers. Roza speaks Polish and could keep her farm if only she signed the required paper, but she refuses to give up her German identity.
The film opens with a gruesome shot of Tadek in 1944 in Warsaw as he lies on the ground limp and bloodied while his wife, Ann, wearing a Red Cross armband, is raped and then shot to death by a German soldier. In 1945, with the war over, Tadek treks north to Masuria in search of Rosa, who is the wife of his friend, Johann, to tell her about her husband’s death and bring her a photograph and Johann’s wedding band. Rosa, played with an intense and extraordinary power by Agata Kulesza, takes Tadek in for the night. They don’t talk about themselves; there are no flashbacks to highlight their past or their grief, no discussion of their predicaments or possibilities. It is by their action that we learn of their respective character and their place in the plot. She is the one that stays home; he is the one that negotiates the outside world. She is a strong, devoted Masurian; he is brave and devoted to her like a faithful watchdog. They are a metaphor for Masurians as a whole; as in centuries past, once again they have to adopt a new identity, or be persecuted. “Don’t forget, you are Masuren,” says the pastor to the congregation. “Without you this land will be nameless”. But to stay, they will have to become Polish. “This will be the last sermon I’ll give in German,” he adds. “To remain your pastor, I will have to speak Polish from the next time”.
The cinematography is superb, maybe perfect. Piotr Sobocinski and the production designer, Marek Zawierucha, work with a subdued, greyish-green palate where even a golden sun feels muted and where actual moments of light and levity—skinny dipping in the lake, rowing a boat, riding a bicycle, sharing a drink and a loaf of bread—seem unreal, fragile and transitory like a dreamed flicker. The style makes a statement about the sense of helplessness, devastation, misery, and brutal inhumanity that is induced by war, and yet, the fleeting thought that it doesn’t have to be so. Michal Szczberiec’s screenplay and Mikolaj Trzaska’s music distill the same pained mood in the sparse dialogue, minimalist music, and sound effects so keen as to mimic a live event. This despairing stillness is shattered when Tadek and Rosa first make love. The scene is ingeniously shot at close range with a handheld camera, which makes it immediate, palpable, and spilling with passion and pathos. It’s a profound comment on the enduring virtues of love and human decency. Unforgettable, like the ending.
ROSA (Roza) (2011, 90 min.)
• 2012 Polish Eagle (Orly) Award–Best Film, Best Director for Wojciech Smarzowski; Best Actress in a Leading role for Agata Kulesza; Best Supporting Role for Jacek Braciak; Best Screenplay for Michal Szczerbiec; Best Sound for Jacek Hamela & Katarzyna Dzida-Hamela
• 2012 Oporto International Film Festival–Directors Week Best Actor Award for Marcin Dorocinski
• 2011 Gdynia Polish Film Festival–Audience Award, Best Actor Award for Marcin Dorocinski
Director – WOJCIECH SMARZOWSKI
Screenplay – MICHAL SZCZERBIEC
Cinematography – PIOTR SOBOCINSKI JR.
Music – MIKOLAJ TRZASKA
Production Designer – MAREK ZAWIERUCHA
Producer – WLODZIMIERZ NIDERHAUS
Tadeusz – MARCIN DOROCINSKI
Rosa Kwiatkowska – AGATA KULESZA
Amelia – KINGA PREIS
Wlodek, Amelia’s Husband – JACEK BRACIAK
Jadwiga Kwiatkowska, Rosa’s Daughter – MALWINA BUSS
Mateusz – MARIAN DZIEDZIEL
Wasyl – ERYK LUBOS
Kazik – SZYMON BOBROWSKI
This riveting period drama reveals a little-known chapter of Polish history: the post-WWII persecution of the Mazurians, indigenous residents of what is now northeastern Poland. Tadeusz finds sanctuary on the farm of an attractive Mazurian widow Roza, a woman who has been raped so many times that it has destroyed her health, but not her spirit. Drawn together by their sorrows, Tadeusz and Roza form a protective bond that unexpectedly matures into a deep and tender love.
Born in 1963. Director and screenwriter. Graduate of the Cinematography Department at the National Film School in Lodz. Documentary filmmaker, also directs commercials and music videos. Winner of multiple awards at film festivals in Poland and abroad for his features THE WEDDING (Wesele) and DARK HOUSE (Dom zly).