Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Janosik: A True Story" (2009, Holland, Adamik)

I can imagine Janosik: A True Story (2009) playing much better in the Slovakian language version than in the Polish one I saw; not only because the latter is dubbed rather clumsily. The problem is that the whole movie – the way it was shot and cut – seems to have been designed to preemptively conceal the dubbing process. We rarely see the lips of anyone speaking move: the way two-shots are structured here, we focus more often on the listening party. A whole arsenal of techniques is engaged: cutting away from the speaking actor, obstructing the camera’s view of his or her lips, or simply having him or her leave the frame while the line is still being delivered. The results are disastrous: the movie is as detached from its own characters as R.W. Fassbinder could only have dreamt to make his own. Janosik… doesn’t give the actors any space whatsoever, so we are left with a collection of half-baked performances that (even if they had taken place) didn’t interest Holland and Adamik enough to welcome them in their movie. Michał Żebrowski is the only one who got lucky and not only gives a good performance, but also has it filmed and delivered by the filmmakers for us to see.

The main part of Janosik (the Slovakian Robin Hood known in this parts of Europe to every child), was given to a Slovakian actor Václav Jirácek, which might have been a good casting choice, but in the light of what I just wrote it’s hardly relevant. At least, Jirácek has an insolent grin and a swaggering walk: that alone carries a couple of scenes. But he wasn’t directed enough: he has no breeziness to him, even though one (rather successful) scene has him literally flying over Tatra mountains. His adventures are ordeals for him and us: there is no cunning to them, no thrill, no spunk. Robbing people for fun has never looked so much like a chore: there is no glee in Janosik’s eyes, no fun at cutting the rich down to size. Jirácek is no match for Marek Perepeczko, who played the part in a Polish TV series in the 1970s. Perepeczko was a burly, beefy guy with a blond mane to his scalp – no great actor, mind you, but one who got the humor of the part and was playing it with an appropriate mix of irony and excitement. Jirácek comes off mostly as a wimp, because he doesn’t know how to relish in mischief.

The only ambition the film seems to have at least partially fulfilled lies in sexualizing the Janosik legend. Sex scenes are plentiful, and they even managed to work up a couple of bourgeois ladies sitting behind me to hiss: “What filth!”, twice. I welcome the attempt, but the truth is that 80% of the sex is filmed in such an ugly, unimaginative way, I was left slightly embarrassed. The scene in which Janosik’s lover blows tiny bubbles of saliva into his mouth had a great premise – it could have shown how people turn their bodies into shared sandbox toys in the sexual act – but the way it plays out, it’s joyless – we don’t care for those people enough to get excited at their spontaneous erotic games.

A sad and excruciating experience, Janosik… marks a low point in both Adamik’s and Holland’s careers – and since I value their other respective movies greatly, I cannot but wait for them to start working each on her own again.


  1. Nice review, thanks!
    Going to watch the slovakian version tonight.
    Btw, Václav Jirácek is a czech actor, not slovakian as you mention above.

  2. Thanks for straightening that out! Glad you liked the review.