The Wedding (Wesele) (Poland 2004)

After a hectic few weeks, the chance to watch a film in peace was too good to miss, even if it was related to our Central European Cinema course. Wesele actually translates as ‘Wedding Reception’ (I read somewhere). Although a new script by the writer/director Wojciech Smarzowski, there appear to be references to an Andrzej Wajda film from 1973 which was itself based on a play from the turn of the century (19th/20th). Certainly this has all the elements of a traditional wedding farce/black comedy, especially one set in a rural village.

The film trundles along at a fair pace with everything fuelled by copious amounts of Slovakian vodka. As the events unfold, they bring ruin to the bride’s father who works on the basis that any problem can be solved by bribery. Perhaps his worst mistake is to be too mean to pay for anything legitimately and so all his cut-price plans backfire. The film is clearly some form of satire with lots of symbolism. The central narrative premise is that the father has bought a new Audi cheaply via an in-law of the local priest as a wedding present for the couple. But the deal requires the grandfather to give up two hectares of land — which he decides not to do. That land should be the crucial element suggests a traditional tale about peasants and access to land (although the real reason that it is so valuable rests on a familiar modern development).

Apart from the endemic corruption and alcohol consumption, the other striking features include the venal priest and the call to all the men to release their macho desires. This isn’t unique to Poland by any means, although the combination of Catholicism, vodka and nationalism is probably unique to the region (i.e. parts of Central Europe). I was at various times reminded of Bunuel (the peasant’s orgy in Viridiana) and Milos Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball – partly because of the array of older and less ‘beautiful’ characters and the occasional, almost documentary inserts of ordinary people having a good time. The final shots of the guests departing, taken from a high angle, also made me think of a Cuban film, The Waiting Room (in which bus travellers are marooned in a provincial bus station). All these three films represent communal celebrations which in some way (certainly not the same way in each film) explore the nation as community.

I’m sure I didn’t get all the jokes but the Poles in the audience certainly laughed. It was a digital print and therefore in the National Media Museum’s largest screen. In the more intimate atmosphere of the smaller cinema it might have been a different experience. Exhibitors Dogwoof are showing their Polish films in one-off shows in small towns across the UK. I wonder what it is like watching this in a rural area in the UK?

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