Zezowate szczescie (Bad Luck) (1960)
Director: Andrzej Munk.
Starring: Bogumil Kobiela (Jan Piszczyk), Maria Ciesielska (Basia), Helena Dabrowska (Wychůwna), Barbara Lass (Jola Wrona-Wronska), Krystyna Karkowska (Wrona-Wronska), Barbara Polomska (Zosia Jelonkowa), Irena Stalonczyk (Irena Kropaczynska), Tadeusz Bartosik (Wasik), Henryk Bak (Director), Mariusz Dmochowski (UB Officer), Aleksander Dzwonkowski (Cezary Piszczyk), Edward Dziewonski (Jelonek), Tadeusz Janczar (Ens. Sawicki), Stanislaw Jaworski (Watchmaker), Andrzej Krasicki (Witold Kropaczynski).
odyssey of a naive man through Poland of 1930 to 1950
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The boss tells Mr. Piszczyk that he canít keep him on anymore. In a mousy voice, Piszczyk says: "Please, sir, I beg you, donít fire me. Itís only here that Iíve begun feeling like a normal person. Itís only here that my bad luck hasnít followed me."
And now Piszczyk is going to tell his life story to the boss, by saying his bad luck started when he was a little boy.
Flashback.He would do his homework while his tailor father fixed outfits for women. His father starts using the boyís table to cut his material. So Piszczyk goes into the other room where he finds the woman being fitted for a dress in her slip. Dad manhandles the young boy and then throws him into the back room.
At school the boys would hit Piszczyk with pieces of waded paper flung from a sling shot. When he would turn around to see who was doing this to him, his teacher would get after him for not paying attention in class. In the school hallways the boys would really kick and push Piszczyk around.
He decides to join the boy scouts and becomes the bugler for the group. But at home when he tries to play the bugle, his dad stops him from practicing. He then starts playing the bugle in the basement. And now all the neighbors get mad at him.
In the scouts, his chums get a bit jealous and spray something on the mouthpiece of his bugle. So when he starts to play the bugle on the day of the big parade he starts continually sneezing.
Now he starts talking about how his oddly shaped nose had a big influence on his life. He was walking to his seat in class one day when two monitors grabbed him and say that Jews sit on the left side of the auditorium. He says he is not a Jew and gets punched in the nose and pushed down the stairs. He produces a paper that shows he is not a Jew and so the monitors now let him sit on the right side of the auditorium. Piszczyk says: "I realized the importance that appearance played in a manís life."
As a young man he was not good at talking with women. He joins the pro-government Party of National Unity. A fellow from the organization tells Piszczyk that they got a job for Piszczyk as a tutor. He goes to the address to be the tutor for the majorís wife. The wife accepts Piszczyk and introduces him to the student, her pretty young daughter Jola. Piszczyk is very pleased by her appearance.
Jola starts flirting with him from the very first. He is surprised that she did not find him ugly. The major comes home and everyone has some tea. Under the table Jola plays footsies with him. This had the effect of making Piszczyk come to believe in himself for the first time.
One day Piszczyk asks Jola to go out on a date with him but she says her parents wonít allow it. She thinks a bit and says maybe they could go out on some night that her parents go out. Jolaís mother tells Piszczyk to finish the lesson and walk her over to the dressmakerís place.
On the walk the mother says that she wants Piszczyk to tutor her daughter enough to make sure she can graduate. Piszczyk says he will do his best. She then goes into a store and makes a telephone call. When she comes out she asks Piszczyk to never tell anyone about her calls from the local pharmacy.
Piszczyk brings some flowers for Jola, but her mother asks him to come into her bedroom so he has to hide the flowers under his coat. She gives Piszczyk his money and then says he did a good job because Jola got a B in math.
Now Jolaís mom is enlisting Piszczyk in getting around her meddlesome husband. She tells Piszczyk that he will go to the movies alone and after the movie they will meet and Piszczyk will tell her all about the film. And if anyone asks, he is to say that they were together for three hours. Piszczyk says he will do it.
Jola comes in and Piszczyk tells her that he is going to the movies with her mother. Heíll be at the movies but after a half hour he will come back to visit Jola alone. Jola says thatís why mother always gets the ugliest tutors for her. Now Piszczyk feels bad so Jola says she likes him and even gives him a kiss.
That night he goes to see the movies so he can tell Jolaís mother what they are about. On the college campus a member of the organization tells Piszczyk that they are helping with the demonstration to support Marshall Piosudskiís policy. And itís Piszczykís turn. Piszczyk says he canít do it because he is tutoring at seven oíclock. [Jůzef Klemens Pi≥sudski, 5 December 1867 Ė 12 May 1935) was a Polish statesmanóChief of State (1918Ė22), "First Marshal" (from 1920), and leader (1926Ė35) of the Second Polish Republic.]
Walking down the street in the demonstration, Piszczyk gets caught between two different student party organizations, so he yells encouraging slogans to his party up front, but then turns around and says things like down with the Jews to the group behind him. He soon decides to run away from the demonstration. The police mistake Piszczyk for a window smasher and beat him down. He has to have his head bandaged up. His father tells him that heís a hero now. Piszczyk says to himself that he is sick and disgusted having to listen to his fatherís stupid, out-of-date opinions.
Piszczyk calls about his tutor job, but Jolaís mother says she got another tutor for Jola, a nice fellow who doesnít get beat up by the police. And thatís how he lost the first love of his life.
Piszczyk is impressed how the military cadets in their spiffy uniforms could impress so many females. So he decides to become a cadet. To get a leg up on the competition he goes to speak to Jolaís dad about helping him get into the cadet school. The major says there may be no use in helping him, because soon most of the young men will be going into the army.
But the Major did help Piszczyk and he got into the school in Zegrze. He reports on September 30th, 1939. The war breaks out and his dream is crushed.
Piszczyk joins the refugees getting away from Warzaw. He gets a ride from a soldier who is moving out of Warzaw. When Piszczyk gets near Zegrze he gets off the wagon and walks to the place.
Walking through a large cabbage field, German airplanes start bombing near him. He throws himself on the ground, puts on his gas mask and then runs like hell away from the cabbage fields. His running around trying to avoid the falling bombs becomes a bit hilarious.
He runs into some army personnel and asks them the way to Zegrze. Itís five kilometers from here.
Piszczyk arrives but the place is deserted. He goes upstairs into one of the buildings. He gets scared of the many small dogs in the building. He starts yelling down the halls to see if anyone is around. He finds a nice army uniform so he puts it on. And now the German soldiers arrive. They go from room to room searching for anyone.
And now Piszczyk is a POW in a camp. They didnít believe the real story saying no civilian is going to dress up in a Polish military uniform when war breaks out. So Piszczyk goes in as a second year cadet. Once inside he starts telling one big lie after another so the men donít discover how stupid he had acted. He continues telling one ridiculous war story after another portraying himself as a hero. He sounds so heroic that a fellow soldier asks him to go in with him in an attempt to dig their way out of the prison camp.
A new group of POWs come into the camp. One of the men is a second year cadet at Zegrze and he wants to know why he has never seen Piszczyk in the two years he has been there? Piszczyk gets scared and runs out of the barracks.
So now all the POWs think that Piszczyk is a spy for the Germans. The guys snub him, mock him and even ask him to put in a good word for them with the German officers. They also give him the silent treatment. The men then start banging on their dinner plates and all get up and leave the table. Piszczyk yells that heís not a spy. He leaves and everyone sits back down at the table.
Piszczyk leaves the camp by volunteering to work in an arms factory for the Germans. He is soon released from the factory for incompetence. So he goes back to Warsaw.
He canít stand the thought of moving back in with his father. So he goes with his old acquaintance and works for him hustling. He does well because the written letter about his once having worked at a German armís factory keeps the Germans off his back.
Now Piszczyk can afford to go to night clubs. He sees a singer he likes at one of the clubs and stares and stares at her. He decides to go see Jola. She introduces him to her fiancť and then to her friend Basia. And soon enough Piszczyk is telling ridiculous war stories to the three people.
When Basia says she has to leave, Piszczyk goes with her. They talk for awhile until she has to take a street trolley. Jola yells to him to telephone her tomorrow morning. Piszczyk says: "That is how the greatest love of my life began."
Piszczyk meets with Basia and tells her that tonight is very dangerous. Basia says sheís just glad their boys attacked the Germans. Seven gendarmes were killed. He tries to kiss her but she tells him to forget about that nonsense. Piszczyk asks her if he will ever get to kiss her? She replies that there are so many more important things to be concerned about. He tells her that a kiss with her is a pretty important thing to him. They kiss, but the mood is broken by the sound of German submachine guns being fired. Sadly, Piszczyk says that was the highlight of his life for no one since has ever kissed him the way that Basia did.
Piszczyk asks Basia what does she carry in her very heavy brief case? She is a courier for the Polish Resistance. He takes the brief case from her, kisses her and then says he will see her tomorrow morning.
At night in bed Piszczyk has a nightmare of him being a naked postal carrier. In the middle of the night he is awakened by the police and they ask him all kinds of questions. They threaten to take him to see the Gestapo so his business friend offers to pay them the bribe mentioned by the uniformed policeman. The police examine whatís in the brief case. Itís mostly candy, but the plain clothes policeman find some papers. He looks them over and then tells Piszczykís friend that they do not mettle into these kinds of affairs. The police leave. Now the friend tells Piszczyk to leave his house right away.
Piszczyk finds out that the police didnít take him in because the papers they found were forbidden newspapers. He takes the brief case back to Basia. He says there was a raid last night, so he had to leave and now he has no place to stay. Basia says he will stay with Jola tonight and then she, Basia, will find him somewhere better to stay.
Piszczyk asks her why is she looking so pleased with him when he is ugly and boring? She says when she first saw him, she thought he was boring, but now she finds him to be very handsome. Emboldened he now says he wants to work with more reliable people and asks her for some contacts with the Polish Resistance. Basia takes him to see a Mr. Witold. The man says Piszczyk will be meeting people almost all of whom have already visited the Reich at least once. Witold brings Piszczyk into the back room to meet the people. Piszczyk is scared when he sees one of the men, Ensign Sawicki, who is from the prison of war camp where Piszczyk stayed. Piszczyk bolts from the room and runs all the way down the steps to get away from his one time fellow POW.
Back to the present.Piszczyk tells the boss that that very same night he left Warsaw. He spent the rest of the war hiding out at his uncleís place in the country. And he now realizes that fate would leave him alone "as long as I kept away from any action."
Flashback.But when Poland was liberated, Piszczyk went right back to Warsaw. The place was in considerable ruins. Piszczyk runs into a man who recognizes him. The fellow asks what Piszczyk is doing now and he lies and says he has been studying the law. The man says he needs a lawyer and will hire Piszczyk, who does tell the fellow that he has no law diploma. The man doesnít care about that at all.
Soon with the help of a book Piszczyk is filing out forms and sending them in for people who need help in performing some basic tasks. The work was very easy for our non-lawyer. He started taking in a lot of money and grew fond of having cash in his hands.
And another woman changes his life. As narrator he comments: "I should have guessed that the appearance of a woman in my life is an omen of a forthcoming disaster." She says her name is Irena Kropaczynska. She sits down and says she wants to file for divorce. Piszczyk asks if she has any evidence of adultery? No, but sheís sure her husband had a mistress. What she wants is for the lawyer to act like a private detective and follow her husband around to discover where he is going and what he is doing. He tells her heís not a detective. She just laughs and says there are no private detectives in Poland.
The woman is attractive, blonde and wears a low-cut dress, so Piszczyk is not going to be able to turn her down. Soon enough, he is bored as hell acting in the role of a private detective. He follows the husband around. He looks ridiculous because of the strange way Piszczyk walks.
The husband starts following his own wife, while the so-called detective is following the husband. She meets secretly with another man. The husband waits for them to come out of the building they went into.
Piszczyk watches the husband from his position across the street in a shop. After awhile the husband walks away. Our private eye still has not left from his spot in the shop across the street. When the husband returns Piszczyk is still there watching the building.
Piszczyk goes back to his offices. The police show up. They arrest members of the office and confiscate all the cash that Piszczyk had been saving up. And now he finds himself in jail. Some officials come to visit him and ask him for his life story. They get bored with his life quickly and tell him straight out: "Youíre part of a secret organization working for foreign intelligence." Piszczyk absolutely denies the charges, but the tall official asks him: "Then who asked you to follow Mr. Kropaczynski?" Piszczyk is so shocked that he falls into one of the corners of his cell.
Back to the present.Piszczyk tells the boss that they interrogated him a few more times but then they released him from prison. The next few years he worked as a low-level official.
Flashback.Now Piszczyk goes to look for another job. He gets one and then reports for his first day of work. The job is to be an editor for their office newspaper. The boss tells Piszczyk to now report to the Head of the Propaganda and Statistics Department. His job will be to go over hundreds of statistical reports coming in everyday.
He works hard and his bossís boss praises his good work. He continues to do good work and they offer Piszczyk his own staff. They ask Piszczyk his opinion of his immediate boss. Piszczyk really stabs him in the back with some juicy criticisms of the man. Piszczyk now laughs with sinister glee at what he did to his immediate boss and his joy over finally reaching the pinnacle of success.
Then Piszczyk says he gains complete independence in his work. His staff keeps growing bigger and bigger. His secretary tells him that heís up for an award for his work. Piszczyk gets his award and is now feeling as if he has reached the top of the world.
But now things are changing for the worse. When he comes to work the staff people do not speak to him. And his former immediate boss asks him if he is still with the company? He tries to telephone the director, but gets the run-around.
Piszczyk goes in to talk with the director, who speaks very coldly to his one-time star of the work force. The reception is so cold that Piszczyk leaves the office.
He gets a call to go face three bosses. The director says that Piszczyk deceived them. He says that he has long suspected Piszczyk because of his high degree of enthusiasm. Piszczyk starts crying saying that all he ever did was try to do his best.
The three men ask Piszczyk to come with them. They make him write on a large piece of paper on a bulletin board the words: tooth, soup, house. He complies. Now they remove the paper and show the bulletin below it. Piszczyk as narrator says: "Under the picture [of the Director], I could see an obscene insult in my handwriting."
Piszczyk says it is not his handwriting, but the handwriting of his former immediate boss. He grabs the rifle from the old guard and starts chasing his former boss around the area. He finally fires the rifle into the air and then collapses on the floor.
Back to the present.He explains that he was arrested for attempted murder and was sent here to the prison. What Piszczyk is appealing is the staff deciding to release Piszczyk into the larger society. He has done so well in prison. Even his bad luck has stopped following him. He asks the warden to please not throw him out of prison. The warden says heís sorry but he cannot keep Piszczyk here any longer. After more argument, the warden gets angry and asks the inmate to please leave the prison.
So out goes Piszczyk, in spite of his efforts to the contrary.
Spoiler Warning. Clever movie. A poor fellow always seems to have his dreams crushed. He is bullied at school and then bullied in the boy scouts. The kids ruin his bit change to impress the influential men and women with his skills with the bugle. In college he was mistaken for a Jewish fellow and pushed around. His dream of being a soldier are crushed by the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and he even gets tossed into a POW camp. His big mouth and his always pretending to be a big hero also backfire on him. In short, he whole life in one upset and disappointment after another. One time he really got high up, but the end was always the same -- out on his keister.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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