Polish film brings near-centenarian actors back into spotlight

10th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The film, which focuses on the lives of those in old age, is set in a real retirement home for actors in Skolimow near Warsaw.

Warsaw -- A Polish director has brought together a handful of iconic local actors, some nearly a century old, to star in a film that offers a lesson about living to the full in the autumn years.

Jacek Blawut's Jeszcze nie wieczor (Before Twilight) is set in a real retirement home for actors in Skolimow near Warsaw.

The cast's oldest member is Irena Kwiatkowska, 97. Best known in Poland for her television-comedy roles in the 1960 and 1970s, she plays herself in the film, which opened in Polish art house cinemas last month.

Three others are 94, including Zofia Wilczynska.

"I turned 94 this year. I had lost the will to do anything, but this film brought it back," said Wilczynska, who began her stage career before World War II.

"Now my dream is to play the Lady of the Camellias," she said, referring to the coveted lead of the French stage classic of the same name.

"But the director tells me that I'm still too young. We'll see when I'm 100," she said with a twinkle in her eye.

One of the more youthful stars is Beata Tyszkiewicz, 70, who appeared in films by her ex-husband, the renowned Polish director Andrzej Wajda, and more recently shifted to the small screen.

"It's a film about life and love. You can be in love at any age," she said.

And its timing is apposite.

As life expectancy grows and birth rates slump across the 27-nation European Union, around one third of the bloc's population could be over the age of 65 by 2050, a major social shift. Currently, the proportion is less than one fifth.

"In the media, the issue of aging gets swept under the carpet. But it can be a very beautiful time in a person's life," said the director.

It is the first feature film for Blawut, 58, who is better known for his documentaries. But "simply making a documentary when you've got all these actors with such huge potential would not have done justice to their talents," he told AFP.

For Roman Klosowski, 80, who appears on stilts in the film, taking part was "a form of therapy".

"I've been acting my whole life. So why on earth can't I keep on going as I near the finish line? We needed this film to show that we can act to the very end and not just sit waiting in a chair. It's a way of saying to yourself: 'I can. I still exist,'" he said.

The film begins with the arrival of a new resident, Jerzy, played by 69-year-old Jan Nowicki, who wants to shake up the home's morose atmosphere by staging Faust, the 19th-century German master Goethe's greatest work.

Tyszkiewicz plays Roza, the only resident who refuses to take part and stays in her room dwelling on her acting past while the other residents rediscover the joys of their acting careers.

"Who'll want to watch us? We'll play in a prison. All of us, even those on walking frames or those with Alzheimer's," says Jerzy, foreshadowing the film's final scene where they put on a show in a prison -- with real detainees playing the audience.

Most of the scenes were shot in the Skolimow home, founded some 80 years ago for aging actors who had fallen on hard times. The cast includes both residents like Wilczynska and outsiders like Kwiatkowska and Tyszkiewicz.

"The filming brought this place back to life," said 88-year-old resident Bozena Mrowinska, who appears on a motorbike in one scene.

The seed of the film was planted in the 1990s when Blawut visited another actors' retirement home in Weimar, Germany, the town where Goethe spent most of his life. While there, he spotted a black dog and thought of Goethe's demon, Mephistopheles, who appears in canine form in Faust. In Jeszcze nie wieczor, a black poodle plays him.

Two of Blawut's cast passed away after shooting was over, but not before learning that the film was selected for Poland's prestigious Gdynia festival, where it won several prizes last September.

Maja Czarnecka/AFP/Expatica

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