MATKA KRÓLÓW – MOTHER OF THE KINGS (1982, 1987)
Director : Janusz Zaorski
Script: Janusz Zaorski, Kazimierz Brandys
Music: Przemyslaw Gintrowski
Cinematography: Edward Klosinski
Cast: Magda Teresa Wójcik, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz
Boguslaw Linda, Adam Ferency
Michal Juszczakiewicz, Krzysztof Zaleski, Jerzy Stuhr
MATKA KRÓLÓW is an adaptation of the novel written by Kazimierz Brandys in 1957. Though Director Janusz Zaorski finished the film in 1982, it was shelved due to subversive content until its Polish release in 1987. Zaorski attended the Łódź Film School in 1969 and spent a majority of his film career focusing on themes of moral concern. He is still currently directing, with his latest release being SYBERIADA POLSKA in 2013.
The film opens with a pregnant Lucja Król (Magda Teresa Wójcik) who finds her husband crushed under a city tram, a scene that foreshadows Poland’s own crushing political climate and its effects on its citizens. Just as the tram crushes Lucja’s husband, the same will happen to Lucja herself and many of those in Poland during this time period. With the loss of her husband, she is forced to move into a basement apartment, giving birth to her fourth son on the day they move in. Lucja meets Wiktor Lewen (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), a young Party member and idealist, the day she moves in.
Wiktor is drawn to Lucja’s sacrifice for her four sons. As Poland becomes occupied, Wiktor finds himself imprisoned as Lucja’s survival again hangs in the balance. Despite Lucja’s best efforts, the political atmosphere of Poland remains a part of her life: with the liberation and the establishment of the Party, Wiktor becomes a key figure of power; as Lucja’s sons mature, they find themselves tied into politics with one of them arrested and another sent to a Siberian work camp.
As the Stalin period hits its peak, it seems none of the characters can escape the Party’s witch-hunt for Western saboteurs. Each of Lucja’s sons ends up like so many of Poland’s citizens, either wrongfully arrested or joining youth camps. Yet in the end it’s Lucja’s love and dedication to her sons that stand the test of time and violence in a changing state.
Janusz Zaorski frames MATKA KRÓLÓW closely in on the actors in most of the scenes, searching their movement as if in an interrogation. Though all of the acting is on point, its Wójcik’s performance that really moves the film. Lucja experiences all kinds of loss but has twinges of joy as she discovers love again in her relationship with Wiktor. Also worth noting is the strong orchestral score that is heavy in low notes played on piano, lending a strong atmosphere marking a period struggle and loss.
The film has an English friendly DVD release by the Polish label DMMS that has recently been releasing Polish classics, including one other film from Zaorski, PILKARSKI POKER (1988). The print used for the DVD release is in excellent shape with strong film grain. MATKA KRÓLÓW is one of the strongest films to come out of 1980’s Poland.