"Have you the courage of Lenin?", asks Przedwiośnie's hero Cezary Baryka in one of the key scenes in the book by Stefan Żeromski, recently adapted for the screen by director Filip Bajon. The question about Lenin's bravery also appears in the film, but somehow it just does not seem that it ever occurred to Bajon to address it to himself.
Maybe the times when Przedwiośnie—a film which examines the meaning of revolution and political change—could well illustrate Poland's conditions at the onset of great changes are already over? For Andrzej Wajda, for example, it should have been made immediately after Round Table in 1989, when the feeling of novelty filled the air. Now, when everything has calmed down and people are more concerned with their daily routines than with pondering the revolution, Przedwiośnie's timing seems inappropriate. What is it, then?
Basically it is what a good director (and Bajon is certainly one) should have made it: a story of young man's fascination with new ideas and how it is confronted with the way those ideas are implemented. Such a pattern is repeated twice. First young Baryka enthusiastically talks to his mother about the coming Bolshevik revolution and what it would mean to working class. His enthusiasm, however, is dented a little after he finds that revolution kills his mother and transforms his jolly friends—each of them of a different nationality—into enemies. "Now we're going to take care of you," says an Azerbaijani to his-not for long time to come, though-Armenian friend who doubts: "Well, I wonder how you're going to do it." "We'll find a way," goes the answer.
Times of unrest wake up ghosts of nationalism that easily give way to bloodbaths. By the way, it is one of the major flaws in the film that the October Revolution and the chaos that ensued (perfect themes to make the film very much compelling) cannot impress viewers. Perhaps it is a question of financing; with scarce resources, a few well-written symbolic scenes would do the job, though, but they are neither realistic nor symbolic.
Going back to the main theme of Przedwiośnie, Baryka's second disillusionment comes when he returns to newly reborn Poland of 1918. Saved from Baku's bloody turmoil by a Polish document, he enters the country of his parents as a total stranger: he has never seen Poland before. More, for him Poland was an abstract idea that his parents only dreamed of-that was all they could do in distant Baku and that was all many Poles could do in their homes, partitioned between three powers more than a century before. "Glass houses", cheap, clean and ubiquitous are what his father tells him to expect in homeland. Nothing of it, though as first thing he sees are children playing in mud in an impoverished and dirty village.
It is important that those disillusionments are never complete and they intertwine in the end. Bolshevik inclinations surface again on seeing how idle his new aristocratic friends are and how much their lives differ from those of the peasants they exploit. Warm patriotic feelings show up at a Communist Party meeting in Warsaw. "Your propaganda is all wrong!", says Baryka. "You claim that working class is weak and poor; that is devoid of culture. So how can you say that this same working class could be the factor that will lead the changes in our society?! Maybe it is the new Poland that will allow for those changes?"
On the other hand, Baryka's ideological dilemmas involve one powerful feature: he is quibbling over them. He has this revolutionary penchant, which never goes away as a result of his disillusionments, but he also cannot convince himself to acting with full compassion. "I have this inner voice that tells me what not to do, but I don't have one that tells what to do," he says. Even in love he finds only disappointment: while vacationing at his friend's aristocratic house three women fell for him and he leaves two of them inconsolable, seemingly finding true affection with the third, Laura. Only seemingly, though.
The film's finale fits well into Baryka's fate. His youth barely finished and his adult life not shaped at all, subject to great ideas of his times: communism and affection for newly independent Poland, he asks Szymon Gajowiec about Lenin's courage. Gajowiec is a high-ranked official from the government, who works hard to give Poland a shape outlined by his spiritual predecessors in the 19th century. Views of Baryka and Gajowiec clash: the former is an idealist who have not found his way yet, but who knows changes should be thorough and fast; the latter goes for organic work, aware of all the limitations politics pose. "Have you the courage of Lenin to destroy what's old and start the new?" Gajowiec's answer is shunned as old-fashioned romanticism bearing no propositions so as to how the new Poland should be like. Baryka knows it needs some great, new idea-yet he has not found out what it is. He joins workers' manifestation only to be hit by a police bullet.
Now, does Przedwiośnie fit into the Poland of 2001? Perhaps today the likes of Gajowiec are better seen as factors pushing the country ahead. On the other hand, could it be that the revolutionary 1989 did not quite produce this great idea for Poland and now the atmosphere for it has waned among the chores of new capitalism? The film lacks the courage of strong presentation of this dilemma, whatever the answer may be.
Wojtek Kość, 23 April 2001
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