Saturday, 28 January 2012

'Polish Roulette' review:

Polish crime/comedy 'Sztos 2' - released in the UK as 'Polish Roulette' - is a sequel to the original 'Sztos' - its fifteen year old predecessor apparently being a well-loved modern classic in its homeland. Having never seen it I was at a loss for much of Olaf Lubaszenko's energetic and colourful follow-up. From what I could make out, it's about a pair of con men who try to get rich with a series of increasingly elaborate slight of hand schemes (none of which are roulette based, counterintuitively). Set in 1983, under communism, the duo travel around the country getting caught between the corrupt and incompetent government officials and their dissident opponents.

Lubaszenko's hyper-active style of direction ensured that whatever I was missing in the twisty, turny plot (which gets increasingly contrived and bizarre as the climax nears) I was far from bored. His camera is almost always moving: panning, tracking, zooming and swooping around the characters. Transitions between scenes have almost no consistency, with fades, wipes and even 80s music video style graphics (as when one scene parts like a pair of curtains to reveal the next). Some of the zaniest cuts between scenes involve huge CGI postcards coming towards the screen, before we zoom into a new location. It's certainly imaginative and oddly compelling, but very much a mess.

Just as odd is the music with the rule seemingly being that one of the film's half-dozen, disparate themes should come in (very loudly) to fill almost every silence. These musical motifs are short and oft-repeated (sometimes on a loop), with the effect that they quickly become unintentionally hilarious. The lighting is even more incongruous, varying wildly from shot to shot. Some scenes are bright blue and orange, others are red or green with purple skin tones. It's undoubtedly a stylistic choice but it's an odd one that reads as amateurish rather than inspired.

Get beyond a lot of these baffling stylistic choices and obvious technical shortcomings, and much of the comedy is dishearteningly similar to that of recent big English language releases. There's lots of silly drunken dancing (see 'The Inbetweeners Movie'), whilst one memorable sequence revolves around a man accidentally getting off with a transsexual, to the amusement of his peers (see 'The Hangover: Part II'). There's also some business with hash cookies, a visual pun that equates a tank turret with an erection and a scene in which a woman invents record scratching during a moment of intense libidinal bliss (in fairness, that bit's actually quite funny).

Some of the jokes that got the biggest rise out of the mainly Polish audience were somewhat lost in translation for the non-Poles, as you might expect with a comedy poking quite specific fun at the nation's recent history. For instance the biggest laugh was afforded a close-up of a sign in a restaurant, which apparently roughly translated as "People wearing coats will not be served".

Amid the larger-than-life buffoonery and nostalgic nods to fondly remembered restaurant signage, there are some clever bits of satire which take aim at the absurdities of a society disorganised with proud military precision. For instance an announcer at a regional train station repeats on a loop a reminder that the station's clocks do not show the correct time. An idiosyncrasy which aptly represents the spirit of Lubaszenko's charming oddity of a film.

'Polish Roulette' is out in the UK now (exclusive to Cineworld) and is rated '15' by the BBFC.


  1. You are right, lots of it will be lost in translation. I was raised in communist Poland and sign saying that they are not serving people in coats is 100% true. That was Polish reality and someone who never lived there will never understand it.
    By the way good rewiev :) Great blog

  2. Thank you very much! I have to say the Polish people in the audience clearly found it very funny, so I think I did miss out on a lot of the jokes. I would be interested in seeing the original though. It certainly wasn't a boring film. Thanks again for your kind words!