Stara basn. Kiedy slonce bylo bogiem
An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God (2003)
Director: Jerzy Hoffman.
Starring: Michal Zebrowski (Ziemek), Marina Aleksandrova (Dziwa), Malgorzata Foremniak (Ksiezna), Daniel Olbrychski (Piastun), Bogdan Stupka (Popiel), Anna Dymna (Jaga), Ewa Wisniewska (Jarucha), Maciej Kozlowski (Smerda), Jerzy Trela (Wizun), Andrzej Pieczynski (Znosek), Katarzyna Bujakiewicz (Mila), Ryszard Filipski (Wisz), Jan Prochyra (Mirsz), Dariusz Juzyszyn (Jarl Sigvald), Marcin Mroczek (Zdobek).
9th century in what became Poland; inhabited by numerous Slavic tribes
English subtitles, but they are virtually worthless. Once in a while, a useful word is used to help one understand what is going on, but the English is absolutely the worst. You have to see it to believe it!
Spoiler Warning: most of the story is revealed.
The movie deals with the time in Poland before the triumph of Christianity. The various Slavic tribes were not united politically and they worshipped different gods. The tribes also would fight against each other. A prince named Popiel receives a prophecy that he will be destroyed by rats. He rejects the prophecy and continues his usual course. He has a wife who was once a slave. She is an extremely ambitious woman living her life through her young son. The princess wants her son to be the next archduke and she is willing to do almost anything to make sure he attains the position. There are, however, a great many obstacles in the way. So she tells her husband to take care of them.
Popiel has two nephews. Following his wife's demands, he steals the knife of one of the nephews, murders the other nephew and blames it on the still living nephew. This eliminates the nephews from the competition. The influential men in the society, however, oppose the idea of Popiel's son becoming archduke because the boy's mother was a slave. In order to eliminate this opposition, the princess poisons the drink that the influential men then drink at the supposed death bed of Popiel. They all die and Popiel pops up from the death bed very much alive.
The commander of Popiel's army, Piastun, has to dispose of the corpses. He noticed when one of the dogs licked the lips of one of the poisoned men, the dog died. Piastun is so disgusted with this and the prince and princess that he leaves the service of Popiel. This infuriates Popiel and he sends some assassins to eliminate Piastun. The army commander, however, is saved by a young hunter/warrior, Ziemowit Pastowic.
Ziemowit falls in love with the beautiful Dziwa, but her family is opposed to the idea. Her father, Wisz, a wealthy local merchant, has already decided that Dziwa would become a temple priestess. After the father is killed by Popiel's men, Ziemowit asks the brothers for the hand of their sister, but they decide to honor the wishes of their father. On horseback Ziemowit grabs Dziwa and rides away with her. Surprise, surprise. She stabs Ziemowit with a knife and he falls off his horse.
Dziwa reports to the holy island and the temple to proceed according to her father's wishes. Meanwhile, Ziemowit is nursed back to health by the local sorceress. Once he is healthy, he comes looking for Dziwa. He does not have any better luck convincing Dziwa to come with him. When he returns from the temple, a local girl uses a love potion on him given to her by the sorceress. He falls for the girl, but the Viking force hired by Popiel raids the village and the local girl is killed.
The Vikings try to destroy the forces of the combined Slavic tribes. Piastun and Ziemowit worked out a good defensive plan and resist the Viking assault. The fight starts to balance out as far as the number of casualties and a decision is made to pit the most powerful Viking warrior against the most powerful Slavic warrior. Piastun offers himself, but Ziemowit intervenes to become the warrior to fight the Viking. The Viking warrior is absolutely huge; maybe two to three times as big as Ziemowit. But Ziemowit manages to kill his opponent with a arrow shot into the left eye.
The tribes had a difficult time deciding on a leader. Disunited as they were, they had made a disastrous assault on Popiel's fort. Piastun tried to stop them, but they did not listen to him. After this disaster, Piastun's successful command against the Vikings and the intervention of the high priest, the tribes decide to appoint Piastun as their leader. He lays siege to the fort. They burn the wooden part of the fort forcing Popiel to retire into the fortified stone tower. Popiel thinks he can outlast the siege because he has stored huge amounts of wheat in the tower. To insure her and her son's survival, the princess stirs up a batch of poisoned wheat which she feds to many of the civilians in the stone tower. The civilians die and their bodies are thrown into the water surrounding the fort. Imagine Popiel's surprise when he learns that the wheat is almost all gone. He investigates the situation for himself and finds hundreds of rats swarming over the wheat remnants. And what is worse for the princess, her hungry son eats some of the poisoned wheat and dies. It is then that Popiel goes to the top of the fort and curses his god. A bolt of lightning strikes him and the fort destroying both.
The high priest now approves of the marriage of Ziemowit and Dziwa and the brothers give up their opposition to the match. The couple lives happily ever after. Their descendants came to accept Christianity.
It is hard to judge the movie because the English translation was so horrible that one had to kind of guess what was going on in the movie based on the action rather than the script. A few key words proved helpful quite a few times, but most of the lines could not be deciphered. (As mentioned above, it has to be seen to be believed!) If the movie had a decent English translation, it probably would be a pretty good movie. There is, however, not that much history in the movie except for some broad strokes about the disunity of the Slavic tribes and the paganism of their religion. One thing I did not like was when Dziwa stabbed Ziemowit so she could fulfill her father's wish to become a temple priestess. How could the guy simply ignore the stabbing and ask Dziwa in the temple to come with him? I would be pretty upset about being stabbed if it happened to me. I think I would start looking for a different, more stable woman.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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