This undeservedly obscure film directed by Agnieszka Holland was her second feature, coming between the better-known Aktorzy Prowincyonalni (Provincial Actors) that launched her career and Kobieta Samotna (A Woman Alone). All three were made in her homeland before the Communist government’s crackdown on Solidarity that led to her going into exile in France.
Only ever released on DVD as part of a short-lived Telewizja KinoPolska collection of Holland’s early works, Gorącka is set between 1905 and 1907, a time of intense revolutionary activity against Poland’s Russian occupiers. Through multiple layers of irony, it tells the story of a single terrorist bomb made for a cell of fanatical adherents of the Polish Socialist Party and initially targeted at the Russian Governor-General.
Plans to explode the bomb go wrong time and again. The film takes on a tragicomic, almost elegiacal tone, as one conspirator after another is eliminated by the Okhrana secret police and the Party succumbs to ideological and personal rifts.
The film was shot during 1980, when Solidarity’s challenge to the Communist government was mounting. On its release at the Berlin film festival in early 1981, Barbara Grabowska’s riveting performance as Kama, an elegant society figure who is secretly a member of the terrorist group, won her the Silver Bear for Best Actress. There was just enough time before the imposition of martial law in November 1981 for Gorącka to win the award for Best Film at Poland’s Gdynia festival.
The authorities then banned the film because of its hostility towards an earlier period of Russian oppression, and also conceivably because of the unflattering portrayal of the party from which Poland’s communist movement later emerged. This raises the question of Holland’s underlying attitude to the film’s revolutionaries and their cause.
It’s possible to argue that she views both as noble in their intentions but corrupted by the lure of violence and conspiracy. But an alternative analysis, one that’s hard not to interpret as a masked commentary on Solidarity, is that she despairs altogether of political action and its substitution of public for private values.
As Donald Levit wrote on ReelTalk, the film “…is consciously distant, sardonic, even cold. No one is really admirable, even with grievances aplenty, in this realistic mix of victims and victimizers, oppressed and oppressors, dreamers and schemers. Villains there are, and fools, just no heroes.”
Adapted from The Story of a Bullet, a 1910 novel by Polish writer Andrzej Strug.
Language(s):Polish (mainly; a few scenes in Russian)
Subtitles:English (srt; default; corrected substantially from the VobSub subtitles on the source DVD; scenes in Russian dialogue also have hardcoded Polish subs).