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The Last Stage - Ostatni Etap DVD
by Michael Barrett Date Added: Wednesday 03 March, 2010
A movie I found out of the blue this week is SALTO, a 1965 film by Tadeusz Konwicki. It's being released on DVD by Facets Video. Konwicki is known as one of Poland's most important postwar novelists, but it turns out he directed six features and one episode of an anthology, and now I'd like to see all of them.

This film stars Zbigniew Cybulski ("the Polish James Dean") as a crazy guy who drops into a kind of ghost town and tells various cockamamie stories, and the citizens aren't sure if they remember him or not. It's mostly a lot of curious confrontations, both intellectual and earthy, conveyed in a fluid camera style with disorienting transitions.

Wojciech Kilar is the composer, and his music is just beautiful. Over the opening credits is a stately, delicate piano piece. There's no background music during the film, but the climax is a lengthy tour de force inside a local hall where the population has gathered to celebrate an annual festival, and there's a small band of piano, drums, double-bass, guitar, clarinet and trumpet. At one point they play a beautiful waltz as the camera turns around from the center of the dancers. It has some similarity, inevitably, to Shostakovich's Jazz Waltz #2 but it's hardly the same.

The real setpiece, however, is the strange title dance, the salto. It's a driving rhythm that begins on the double-bass. Then the other instruments join in as Cybulski leads the town in the dance. This scene is very Polish, having precedents as far back as Wyspianski's classic play "The Wedding," which also ends with the whole town participating in a strange dance. The great pre-war avant-gardist Witkiewicz also employed similar dance devices in his groundbreaking plays, and although ignored in his lifetime, his work enjoyed a spectacular renaissance in 1950s Poland and influenced everybody, including Polanski.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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