Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/20/03 05:54:32

"Guaranteed to make you scratch your head. And cross your legs."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: When you mix social commentary about the Polish underclass with a Buddhist parable and gangster comedy, chances are good that whatever message you're seeking to convey is going to get a little confused. Credit rookie Polish director Piotr Trzaskalski with managing to pull off such a mix without making Edi an experience in sheer frustration, but that's not to say he's come out of the experience unscathed. Indeed, Edi is frustrating, bewildering, patchy and certain to leave audience members feeling uncomfortable, but it also takes that audience into a world they rarely see - post-Solidarity Poland - where the haves and have-nots aren't exactly looking out for their fellow man.

Edi (Henryk Golebiewski) is a scrap metal collector. With his buddy, Jurek (Jacek Braciak), he wanders the streets trying to find a little discarded iron that that can be turned in for come quick drinking money. The twosome live on a filthy mattress in a filthy abandoned building in a filthy part of town, earning just enough to drink, and occasionally feed, while their work day is spent trying to outfox the legion of others in the same financial position as them.

Sure, Edi and Jurek are drunks, but not all the scrap metal collectors are. Some are widows, others simpletons, some just down on their luck. As much as post-Communist Poland has turned around its economic fortunes, the lack of a social safety net for people like this isn't so much a source of national disgrace; it's almost a source of bemusement for those with better luck.

So when a pair of local hoods tell Edi, who keeps a collection of books in his unplugged refrigerator and is considered smart by the bums around him, that he's to tutor their wayward sister - or else . He duly does so. To refuse would mean a beating, or worse, and who'd lift a finger to help a drunken old derelict?

But the wayward would-be student is more wayward than her protective brothers know. She's engaged in a love affair with a gypsy black marketer, and when she gets knocked up by her secret love, she accuses Edi of raping her. And that's where things get a little odd.

See, I don't know about you, but if someone accused me of raping a gangster's little sister, I'd not only make a strong case for the negative, but I'd be out of town inside seventeen seconds. Edi, however, perhaps sick of the continual cycle of people protecting their own interests, takes the other tack. He decides that the true love of this girl's life means more than his balls, and he takes the punishment coming to him.

Now, okay, maybe we could all do with a little more Christ-like love for all in our lives, but there comes a point where you have to say "okay, you've been misinformed, please put away the razorblade and refrain from beating my face in." In this reviewer's opinion, Edi loses traction when it becomes about martyrdom and not simply demonstrating the ills of society. Is Trzalskalski telling us we should take in a homeless drunk and send him to college, no matter what the personal cost? Is he telling us we should put our lives on the line so a precocious bitch who would drop us in the crap without a second thought so she can screw her flavor of the month mafia boyfriend?

The performances are great, especially that of Henryk Golebiewski. According to unconfirmed reports (in other words, according to something I read on the internet), Golebiewski was something of a child star in Poland, but the facial features that made him a cute kid made him a Clint Howard-esque adult, so this is his big break as a serious actor. And good for him, because he's certainly shown he has the chops for such work. Edi is part comedy, part drama, part fable, and to keep that all together without getting crazy, both director and lead had to be in good form.

While Edi is certainly not a feel-good Friday night video rental, it's an impressive outing for all concerned and a lot more accessible than you might think. Perhaps next time Trzalskalski (I typed that from memory!) might consider delivering a message that will be easier for a wide audience to swallow, in a manner that won't have them crossing their legs in pain, because he's certainly got the talent to do just that.

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