Even with three stepping-out-of-character monologues delivered by its lead actress and several lightly-worn, if probably unnecessary, meta-cinematic interludes appended to its thin sliver of a narrative, Andrzej Wajda’s Sweet Rush feels like half a movie. Still, as half films go, it’s at least better than average. Opening on a five-minute unbroken take of actress Krystyna Janda reflecting on the real-life circumstances of her husband’s death from lung cancer, the film then shows Wajda rehearsing his actors before moving on to the narrative proper. Picking up the grand theme of death from the opening scene, this episodic central sequence is drenched in intimations of mortality. Based on a story by writer Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (the fourth time Wajda’s drawn on his work), the narrative centers on Marta (Janda), a late middle-aged woman living in a post-WWII Polish village, still mourning the wartime death of her two sons and suffering from a fatal lung condition that she doesn’t know about. When she befriends a handsome young villager (Pawel Szajda) for whom the attraction seems at once maternal and sexual, they begin a series of casual meetings that culminate in a seaside kiss whose unexpected force startles the woman and leads, indirectly, to tragedy.
Despite the ever-lurking presence of death, Wajda’s in a playful mood throughout, having fun with his legacy, as when Marta hands the boy the book Ashes and Diamonds (the source for the director’s breakthrough film), or poking fun, in somewhat facile fashion, at the film’s artificiality. The result is that, while the deep gravity and extraordinary candor of Janda’s monologues are difficult to shake off and while the scenes between Marta and her young would-be lover skillfully evoke both a potential joy and a creeping sense of tragedy, Wajda’s treatment of the source material feels too thinly imagined to really stick. After all, how seriously are we to take the central narrative when the director cuts away in the middle of the climactic sequence to give us shots of the camera crew filming the scene?