The Fifth Season of the Year
Credits: Directed by Jerzy Domaradzki and starring Marian Dziedziel, Ewa Wisniewska, Andrzej Grabowski, Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, Teresa Szmigielówna, Leszek Lichota, Grzegorz Kwas, Joanna Falkowska-Misiak, Natalia Rybicka and Gabriela Oberbek.
Details: 96 mins, Poland,
Synopsis: On the surface, they have nothing in common. Witek (Andrzej Grabowski) is a widowed driver, who has driven thousands of kilometers in his life, but never really seen anything outside his homeland of Silesia. Barbara (Ewa Wisniewska) is retired music teacher who cannot get over the death of a loved one - a painter with whom she spent the most beautiful years of her life. Wanting to fulfil his dying wish and bury his ashes at sea, she turns to Witek for help. As they travel north to the Polish shore, they become friends; this friendship will allo them to overcome even the largest differences.
Seniors engage on joyful, familiar journey.
The overly familiar road movie/senior citizen tropes occasionally undermine the well-structured dramatics of Jerzy Domaradzki’s gently likable drama, The Fifth Season of the Year. Two wonderful lead performances and a soft thematic touch are two of the film’s strongest assets, but its plotting plays cute and obvious, leaving the frustrating sense that the Sydney-based director’s otherwise accomplished work is not quite the sum of its parts.
Steeped in a melancholy stemming from an all-pervasive mood of mature-age longing and the weighty burden of memory, Domaradzki’s first full-length feature since 1996’s Lilian’s Story shares many of that film’s preoccupations with growing old and feeling wanted, in both a societal and familial sense. The literal journey of the protagonists in his latest effort is all about the symbolism of reaching that final destination with a sense of self intact, a life fulfilled and at peace, and of the role a shared love plays in achieving these goals.
The paths of Barbara (Ewa Wiśniewska) and Wiktor (Marian Dziędziel) cross at the funeral of her lifelong love; he’s playing trumpet at the service while she’s left alone, ostracised by her late partner’s cold-hearted family. Glimpses of Wiktor’s life indicate he’s simple man with a strong spirit; when not driving a taxi, he plays jazz at the local 55+ singles get-together and breeds homing pigeons with his oafish best friend, Bogdan (Andrzej Grabowski). But the life of the cultured, cloistered Barbara is in turmoil. Still grieving, she has been given a month to leave her apartment by her late lover’s family, who want to cash in his possessions.
Reclaiming her lover’s ashes in a shady night-time deal with the cemetery caretaker (an early sign that Domaradzki and writer Natalia Pryzowicz are not above clunky plotting), Barbara agrees to travel to the seaside with Wiktor to distribute the remains. So sets in motion the machinations of the standard misfits-on-the-road story, which here sees our bickering pair lose their money to a con woman (Natalia Rybicka), get stoned with bikers, visit the old family home, sleep in a barn, etc., before finding mutual respect and affection just as they arrive on the coast. (This is not a spoiler, just what often happens in road movies. It’s clear from very early what’s going to happen here).
Despite the conventional narrative, there is a great deal of joy to be had in watching two seasoned actors explore the emotional, idiosyncratic depths of their characters. The highly-respected Ewa Wiśniewska has arguably her best role since her award-winning turn in Ryszard Ber’s Cudzoziemka (1986); her Barbara initially exudes stoicism but also a nervous vulnerability. As Wiktor, the charming Marian Dziędziel (The Mole) provides many of the film’s warmest, funniest moments without ever descending into a boorish, working class stereotype. The chemistry these fine actors generate and their genuine embrace of Pryzowicz’s lovely words overcome the grinding gears of the plot, resulting in an engaging, sweet film.
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