Monday, January 29, 2007

Bad Luck (Poland, 1957)

Jan Piszczyk is the infuriatingly naïve main character in this film that simultaneously arouses contempt and sympathy in the viewer. The story begins with him narrating as a middle-aged man the story of his life. Poland is on the brink of war and Jan tries to adapt to the rapidly changing environment in order to survive. However, he does not so much adapt but assimilate to whatever circumstance falls upon him, oblivious to the contradictions. The situations that he finds himself in are totally incompatible. Leading a march on the street with a flag, he shouts both pro-government and anti-government slogans. Occupying every possible position, he is on neither side. He does this throughout his life, always trying to fit in wherever he happens to be, spurred by his desire for seeking self-validation through other people. The major problem, of course, is that he has no engagement with political situation. Out of his desire to please, he exaggerates and always gets caught in a web of lies that expel him to other situations where he makes the same mistakes. His insincerity does not stem from some evil purpose, but from oblivion, nativity and innocence. He has no historical or political understanding of the world around him.

During the class discussion, the position of Jan as the main character in the film and his personality construct was analyzed as a reference to Poland's postwar sardonic self-deprecation of nationalism. Part of what happens under communism is that every aspect of life becomes politicized, resulting in compulsory enthusiasm. I remember Dr. Shaviro explaining that the downfalls of Jan all occur because he is so unbelievably enthusiastic, that in such a bleak period in history it would be hypocritical and insincere. As one character says to him, "I was always suspicious of you because you were so enthusiastic." With this perspective, Bad Luck can be read as a cynical deconstruction of nationalism. The film's sardonic humor and self-deprecation undermines postwar nationalism as a precarious aggrandizement.

In tandem with these observations, my immediate reaction early in the film to Jan's character was sympathy, but then later I felt he was despicable.


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