by Dan Wilson
For those who missed the award-winning Polish film “Edi” at the Milwaukee International Film Festival this past November, you’ll have another opportunity to see it at the Times Cinema in January 2004. Piotr Trzaskalski’s feature film debut is a masterfully crafted story about what we humans hold on to when all our hope is gone. The film explores how mistakes and bad decisions can lead to more noble outcomes when we hold on to our humanity despite the tribulations that we’re facing — and ultimately, it’s that humanity that saves us. The film takes place in Poland, where Edi and Jureczek are homeless squatters in an abandoned factory, eeking out a meager living collecting scrap metal. They’re respected and well liked by the people who know them. Two other characters, “the brothers,” are loan sharks with a hold on the neighborhood’s criminal underworld. They’re raising their 17-year-old sister, Princess, ferociously guarding her virginity. Edi’s and Jureczek’s lives become intertwined with the brothers’ when they hire Edi to tutor the girl. After all, a middle-aged homeless man is hardly a sexual threat, they reason. One night, with the brothers gone and Edi and Jureczek sleeping in the living room, Princess sneaks out to see her boyfriend. When the brothers discover that she’s pregnant, she accuses Edi of raping her in an effort to protect the identity of the real father. Edi doesn’t deny the charges, so the brothers exact a gruesome revenge and insist that he care for the baby. Edi, Jureczek, and the baby depart for the country to stay with Edi’s family where they begin raising the child. The brothers discover that Princess lied to them about the father’s identity, and in the stirring conclusion of the film, through the decisions he’s forced to make, we see Edi’s sacrifice and redemption. As Edi, Henryk Golebiewski gives one of the best performances in contemporary European cinema. He is wonderfully subtle in his portrayal of a middle-aged man who has fallen upon hard times and is doing the best he can with his circumstances. Like many eastern European films, “Edi” is slow-paced, giving the viewer a wonderful opportunity to discover the characters, to really understand their lives, passions, and motivations. Though at times some plot elements seem contrived or unrealistic, they ultimately become essential to our understanding of the people in this richly complex character study. “Edi” plays at the Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet St. (Washington Heights) from January 9-15. The film shows nightly at 7 and 9 p.m. with weekend matinees at 3:30 p.m.