Interrogation [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th October 2023).
The Film

Palm d'Or: Ryszard Bugajski (nominated) and Best Actress: Krystyna Janda (winner) - Cannes Film Festival, 1990
Audience Award: Ryszard Bugajski (winner) and Critics Award: Ryszard Bugajski (winner) - Polish Film Festival, 1989
Special Jury Prize: Ryszard Bugajski (winner), Best Actor: Janusz Gajos (winner), Best Actress: Krystyna Janda (winner), and Best Supporting Actress: Anna Romantowska (winner) - Polish Film Festival, 1990
Diamond Lion (Best Actor of the 40th Anniversary of the Festival): Janusz Gajos (winner) - Polish Film Festival, 2015

After arguing with her writer husband (The Story of Sin's Olgierd Lukaszewicz) over a possible flirtation with another woman, military cabaret actress and singer Tonia Dziwisz (On the Silver Globe's Krystyna Janda) decides to drown her sorrows with a pair of admirers. Passing out drunk, she comes to in the presence of Major Zawada (Three Colours: White's Janusz Gajos) who interrogates her about her relations with other men, flying into a rage and telling her that nothing is private when she objects to his line of questioning but refusing to tell her why she has been arrested. Tonia tries to remain optimistic because she is sure that some mistake has been made, even playing hostess to new inmates, but her cellmate Mira (Death in Shallow Water's Anna Romantowska) tells her that "no one can leave this place innocent; it can't happen."

Under the relentless interrogation of the explosively violent Zawada and the seething Lieutenant Morawski (Blind Chance's Adam Ferency) - who is disgusted by her lack of class consciousness – Tonia eventually learns that she is under suspicion for her involvement with Major Olcha (Eroica's Tomasz Lengren) who organized the performances for the troops and has been arrested for treason, and they do not believe her when she claims to have no knowledge of his associates or involvement in his activities. She balks at the urging of cellmate Witkowksa (future director Agnieszka Holland) - a lifelong communist branded an "American spy" because the American socialist to which she was assigned by the state to serve as a guide turned out to be with the CIA – to stop claiming innocence and invent a lesser crime for which they can punish her; however, it is Morawski's attempts to wear her down and confess for the good of the party that strengthen her resolve to resist in the face of torture and threats of death.

Far from a story of heroic struggle, Interrogation is a wrenching account of the wartime power of the Polish military secret police based on true accounts, principally the accounts of Tonia Lechmann and Wanda Podgσrska, later secretary to Polish communist leader Władyslaw Gomulka who was part of the resistance during the war. Tonia is proudly apolitical, a fact which seems unfathomable to the party; for them, she is a co-conspirator at worst or a whore at best. When Tonia confesses to sleeping with a soldier in the National Army, Zawada surmises that it was not his looks that attracted her but that she was "drawn to the forces of reaction" while Morawski calls her a parasite "waving her ass about" while others are "working away for the fatherland." While the tortures are presented in rather indirect manners largely offscreen, it is the interrogations that are grueling, and it is easy to reduce Zawada's treatment of Tonia to unchecked misogyny – particularly in light of some of the reactions of members of the co-laudation committee reviewing the finished film – while Morawski's admission to Tonia of his past as a prisoner at Auschwitz is the chink in his armor that exposes his extreme party idealism as "performance."

Zawada's approach is sadistic but impersonal and detached, while Morawski's approach involves manipulation that more often backfires than not – when Mira is "exposed" with a forced confession as the one who passed on things Tonia said in their cell for her freedom, Tonia smiles as if happy for Mira's freedom even if she refuses to take the approach – with Tonia's awareness of Morawski's voyeuristic spying for the effects of his maneuvers on her. Once Tonia sees for herself the "mechanisms" of her terror – including the execution of a male prisoner hilariously exposed to her as faked – the balance shifts as Tonia seems to lose any "respect" she might have had for Morawski even as they share brief but fraught moments of mutual comfort. Some more "conservative" members of the committee to approve or reject the film suggested a moment that they felt should have ended the film on an optimistic note; but, however much the moment is a brief respite, it would be an insult to the film's fictional victims and the real people on which they are based to have done so.

The film led to the dissolution of Andrzej Wajda's production company Zespσl Filmowy "X" which had managed to whether criticism of Wajda's own Man of Marble and the halting in production of Andrzej Zulawski's science fiction epic On the Silver Globe – both of which featured Jadna – and the film did not receive an official until 1989 to Cannes Film Festival awards; however, director Ryszard Bugajski had managed to circulate the film on VHS bootlegs leading to acclaim both underground and abroad including a "Best Film of the Year" award at the 1987 Rotterdam Film Festival in spite of no official screenings. In the meantime, Bugajski worked in Polish television in the early eighties and then stateside with two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an episode of The Hitchhiker, and five episodes of The Twilight Zone as well as the Canadian feature Clearcut.


Released theatrically in Poland in 1989 and in 1990 in the United Kingdom by Gala Films and in the United States by Circle Films – who also imported the likes of John Woo's The Killer, Catherine Breillat's 36 fillette and Vincent Ward's The Navigator – Interrogation was first released to DVD in the U.K. by Second Run in 2005. Second Run's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray comes from a new "new 2K restoration of the film produced by WFDiF, Poland." The opening scenes and some flashbacks have a deliberately warm and humid look – while the overall garish yellow tinge has been removed from the earlier SD master – but the prison scenes look cooler and predominately gray and blue with Jadna's blond hair and some blood popping onscreen the grayer her pallor becomes throughout the film.


The sole audio option is a 24-bit uncompressed LPCM 2.0 rendering of the original mono track which is dominated by dialogue punctuated by some subtle underscoring and a lot of offscreen screaming from the prison's neighboring hospital. The optional English subtitles contain one noticeable error ("Hold it tohether!").


Ported from the Second Run DVD is "Interrogation Introduced by Ryszard Bugajski" (32:03) in which the late director recalls developing the script years before production and doing research, with the opportunity to make coming just before martial law was declared in 1981. Bugajski and his crew hid the film and waited to be arrested; when that did not happen, they started editing the film. He recalls the co-laudation meeting and the reactions to the film and his subsequent arranging to transfer the film to U-matic and then circulating copies as VHS bootlegs.


More interesting than the interview is the included 40-page booklet with writing on the film by Michael Szporer and the complete transcript of the 1982 hearing before the so-called 'co-laudation commission' ahead of the film's suppression which finds filmmaker Bohdan Poreba – charitably described as an "establishment filmmaker" but also a member of the right-wing nationalist group "Grunwald" – takes shots at the film, Jadna (or her character), and Holland.


Ryszard Bugajski's Interrogation managed to achieve acclaim despite being banned and not officially screened for a decade, and Second Run's Blu-ray provides fascinating historical documentation of its production and controversial reception and suppression.


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