Polish Film Festival in America 

The 12th annual Polish Film Festival in America, produced by the Society for Arts, runs Saturday, November 4, through Sunday, November 19. Screenings are at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence. Tickets are $8; passes are also available for $35 (five screenings) and $75 (twelve screenings). Tickets to the opening-night screening on Saturday, November 4, are $15. For more information call 773-486-9612.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4

The Cardinal

Andrzej Seweryn (Pan Tadeusz, With Fire and Sword) stars as Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, who defied Poland's communist government in the early 1950s. Teresa Kotlarczyk directed this 105-minute feature. On the same program: Andrzej Seweryn--Actor (53 min.), a profile by Wojciech Michera. Seweryn and Kotlarczyk will attend the screening. (7:30)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5

In Desert and Wilderness, Part 1

A Polish teenager (Tomasz Medrzak) and an English girl (Monika Rosca), whose parents are working on the Suez Canal project, are kidnapped by Muslims. Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis?) penned the source novel for this 1973 children's film (a remake is currently in production in Poland, directed by Maciej Dutkiewicz). The first part runs 95 minutes, from a total of 187. (1:30)

A Big Animal

Jerzy Stuhr directed and stars as a colorless bank clerk who becomes a local celebrity after adopting a camel from a circus. At first glance the film seems like a daffy children's story: the camel couldn't look more comical loping through the village square, and the clerk and his dowdy wife clearly love the camel and do all they can to make it comfortable. (The wife even knits a special blanket for it, with two holes for the humps.) But as the villagers' fascination turns to jealousy and resentment, the clerk is forced out of the town orchestra, runs afoul of numerous zoning and tax ordinances (the local officials can't find a camel listed on the tax schedules for livestock), and finds he's no longer comfortable leading his camel around town. By midpoint the film has turned as dark as a Gogol story (or Milos Foreman's The Fireman's Ball). Unfortunately the screenplay, adapted by Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue) from a short story by Kazimierz Ortos, progresses in fits and starts, omitting important scenes from the story. Stuhr's direction seems uncertain in the latter half, and Pawel Edelman's beautiful but stark black-and-white cinematography makes even the sunniest scenes seem brooding. 73 min. (Jack Helbig) (3:30)

Reed Dance

The title of this documentary refers to a Swaziland tribal ritual in which young girls, presumed virgins, dance with long reed stalks to demonstrate their fitness to the king and other men. Filmmaker Andrzej Fidyk meanders back and forth among the young King Mswati III, his courtiers, a witch doctor, and girls about to take part in the dance. The film touches on royal history, polygamy, birth control, and AIDS, which it mentions so many times that it begins to seem like a public service announcement; with its perfunctory visuals and analysis it squanders the opportunity to investigate the ceremony's socioeconomic significance, the anachronism of Africa's last absolute monarchy, and the irony of customs that have outlived their usefulness. 57 min. (TS) Fidyk will attend the screening. (5:15)

Life As a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

Reviewing this feature for the Chicago International Film Festival, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, "Fans of Woody Allen's noncomic features might well go for this glum spiritual study of a physician adjusting--mainly with dignity and common sense--to his own death from inoperable cancer. Despite the jokey title, this has only a modicum of wisecracks, and its mordant Polish wisdom, while genuine, mainly seems all too familiar. It begins with a medieval film-within-the-film about a horse thief and the religious guide who prepares him offscreen for death by hanging, then shifts to the doctor on the movie's location; he remains the focus thereafter, as he gradually learns about his terminal illness. I've never seen any of Krzysztof Zanussi's most famous films, which are highly respected, and perhaps I approached this picture with the wrong kind of expectations. It certainly isn't a bad film, but it doesn't hold a candle to Leo Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich.' Zbigniew Zapasiewicz is commanding as the hero." Jack Helbig adds, "What makes Zanussi's film remarkable is how gingerly he avoids kitsch: the 'why me' melodrama, the sentimental 'life is still good' theme, the awkward imposition of philosophy or religion on the protagonist's pain. Instead the film focuses on the mundane details of the doctor's life: his plain apartment, his unremarkable job, his unsatisfying conversations with a local priest, his difficult relationship with his workaholic ex-wife. Zanussi also notates the chaos, loneliness, and brief flashes of hope in contemporary Warsaw, where western Europe is a growing influence and the Catholic church is returning as an important institution." Krystyna Janda costars. 99 min. (6:30)

Hidden Treasures and Yellow Scarf

Krzysztof Zanussi directed Hidden Treasures (54 min.), a drama about the daughter of an aristocratic Polish family, now living in France, who returns to her homeland looking for a case full of valuables that were buried in a forest at the end of World War II. Janusz Morgenstern's Yellow Scarf (64 min.) explores an alcoholic businessman's strained relationships with his son, his ex-wife, and his new girlfriend. (8:30)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6

Little Vilma: The Last Diary

A Hungarian girl, living in Kyrgyzstan with her parents, is forced to care for the younger children of her immigrant enclave after their parents are rounded up by the Soviets during World War II. Marta Meszaros directed this autobiographical film, to be shown in Polish without subtitles. 100 min. (7:00)

Enduro Boyz

Piotr Starzak directed this feature about a teenager, alienated from his stockbroker father, who hooks up with a friend for a motorbike excursion and winds up in trouble with the law. To be shown in Polish without subtitles. 89 min. (9:00)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7

The Fairy Land

Henryk Dederko wrote and directed this political parable about a Polish presidential candidate who suddenly announces he will drop out of the campaign and give away everything he owns. To be shown in Polish without subtitles. 90 min. (7:00)

Little Vilma: The Last Diary

See listing for Monday, November 6. To be shown in Polish without subtitles. (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8

Some Like It Cold

An aspiring screenwriter, director, and cinematographer sign on with a craven film producer whose ideas for a commercially viable project become more and more outlandish. Tomasz Konecki directed this 85-minute satire for Polish television. (7:00)

Life As a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

See listing for Sunday, November 5. (9:00)

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9

Quiet Zone

A young married couple are separated after their car breaks down in the woods, and when the wife tries to hitch a ride, she's picked up by a carful of men and held captive at a wild party. Krzysztof Lang directed. 90 min. (7:00)

Unknown Christmas Carol and The Cart Man

Piotr Mularuk's Unknown Christmas Carol (57 min.) updates the Charles Dickens novel, making its sour protagonist a businessman who plans to tear down an orphanage and replace it with a gas station. Mariusz Malec's feature debut, The Cart Man (70 min.), concerns a homeless drifter. (9:00)

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