Thursday, November 15, 2012

Father, Son and Holy Cow (orig. Święta Krowa) [2011]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing* listing

Father, Son and Holy Cow (orig. Święta Krowa) (2011) [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Radek Węgrzyn [IMDb] []* along with Cezary Iber [IMDb] []* and Rogerto Gagnor [IMDb][]*) is a film that one would probably expect to play at a festival like the 24th Polish Film Festival in America/Chicago.  At the surface, it's basically a comedy that takes place in the Polish countryside.  However, as is often the case with seemingly "simple films" like this, there's more going on in the film than may initially meet the eye.

The story is about a late 50-something / early 60-something widower named Bognan (played by Zbigniew Zamachowski [IMDb] []*) who returns to his mother (played by Elżbieta Karkoszka [IMDb] []*) still living in his home town, a small village by the Baltic coast, soon after the death of his wife, Izabela (played by Lucyna Malec [IMDb] []*) presumably of cancer.  Bognan and Izabela had grown-up together in that small town before leaving it for the fame and fortune of the outside world.  Izabela had become an accomplished classical singer, Bognan was her accompanist on the piano.  They had spent much of their adult lives living in Berlin, GERMANY and traveling around Western Europe.  The two had daughter named Anna (played by Agata Buzek [IMDb] []*), who appeared in her late 20s/early 30s, who was following in her parents' footsteps and had become an accomplished classical singer with a (married) lover in Berlin as well.

It's clear that the link to their country past (dare one say "buran" past) was tenuous.  Near the beginning of the film, Bognan arrives in his home town with an urn with his wife's ashes and _disperses_ them, alone, on the beach where the two had spent a good part of their youth, dreaming of getting the heck out of there and on to adventures in the larger world.  So as we watch Bognan disperse his wife's ashes, it's clear that when the two had left their village they didn't merely leave it behind but also largely their faith and the other aspects of their "non-avantguard" past.  But now Izabela had died, and Bognan, not knowing what exactly to do, comes home for a while to reorient himself.

Well mom was ready for him ... with some chores ... ;-).  Among them were fixing the roof on the barn and taking care of the cows.  During the course of his new routine, he comes across a young Paweł (played by Antoni Pawlicki [IMDb] []*) a late-20 something / early 30-something young man (unmarried) who runs the local grocery store and spends his mornings running around the nearby farms collecting the produce for the day (milk, eggs...) that he sells then at his store.  On one hand a happy-go-lucky guy, on the other he seems like a "lost soul" / "walking anachronism" even if he is always full of ideas trying to make his still rather traditional existence more modern and in with the times:  On his van he writes "Pawłowski & Sons" even though there are _no sons_ to speak of, explaining that "it's a marketing ploy" giving people the impression that his business has a future.  Also talking to Bognan, and finding out that he's a musician he tells him that he read somewhere that playing music to cows makes them produce more milk.

Buran thinks Paweł's off his rocker, but depressed himself, he sets up a gramophone and plays Mozart into the the countryside one afternoon.  And low and behold, he finds that his cows _do_ produce more milk, and in particular _one_ cow that he recently bought for his mother produces far and away more than the others.  Paweł comes by the next morning and sees all the milk that Bognan's cows, including the "miracle cow," had produced.  Asks Bognan, what he played.  He answers "Mozart" and thus begins a new marketing gimmick for Paweł as he begins to sell "Mozart's Milk" to the people of the town.  Beyond being a lot of it, the milk is also really, really good!

But the cow begins to mean more to Bognan than just a cow that produces exceptional quantities of exceptionally good milk.  The cow seems kinda temperamental and one afternoon escapes through a hole in the fence (that Bognan hasn't gotten around to fixing...) and so Bognan finds himself chasing said cow, Klara, all over the countryside until ... she leads him to the place where he had dispersed his wife's ashes.  At this point, Bognan becomes convinced that ... this cow ... who he only purchased for his mother after his wife's death is somehow his wife "in another form" (her reincarnation I suppose).  So he starts to treat her well, as if she was his significant other / girlfriend.  And wants, in fact, to hold a "coming out party" with "his cow" for his family and friends.

Well, of course, both traditionalist (and very Catholic) mom and eyes-rolling, very secularist daughter, Anna, with "other issues going on" are appalled.  Bognan's mother tries to get the local priest (played by Andrzej Mastalerz [IMDb] []*) to "do something" about this new found threat that she calls "zoophilia."  To the film's credit, the priest looks like he'd really not like to get involved _but_ his parish _depends_ on "old ladies" like Bognan's mom.  So he trots out there and tries to "do something" even as he knows the situation is absurd and he probably figures that he won't move Bognan anyway.  Indeed, Bognan tells him and other detractors: "There are more things in heaven and on earth than can fit in your (or any) philosophy."  And continues with his project.  For her part, Bognan's daughter, Anna, finding herself pregnant by the married (to another woman) lover that she has, thinks her father has gone nuts, but eyes-rolling, decides to drive-out (from Berlin...) essentially to "assess the damage."

Much then plays out ... Among the things that play out is that the cow becomes much more like (though far differently than Bognan first understood it) to his wife than he had initially thought.  It becomes clear that the cow produced all that milk, surprisingly/uniquely _delicious milk_ and was also so temperamental because ... she was ill.  It turns out that Klara the cow (like Iza his wife who had died) had cancer.  And so Bognan then has to confront the reality of his wife's death in the slide toward death of this cow...

[There is actually a fairly strong hint in the film here that Anna had actually assisted in helping to speed Iza's death much along the line of what the vet was telling Bognan to now do with the cow.  YES assisted suicide is _against_ Catholic teaching ... but then it was also obvious that Bognan, Iza and their daughter Anna had not exactly concerned themselves much with Catholic teaching ... though Bognan's mother certainly did.  The juxtaposition of Klara the cow and Iza, Bognan's wife, becomes an interesting and _not_ altogether straightforward comparison:  When Anna assisted in prematurely bringing about the death of her mother (even at her request) did she treat her mother "with kindness/compassion" or simply "like an animal"...?]  

Finally, there's the inevitable encounter between the simple but happy but also desperately trying not to be obsolete/useless unmarried 20-30 something country bumpkin Pawel, and the eyes-rolling sophisticated 20-30 something unmarried Anna who had gotten pregnant by an already married man who _won't_ marry her.  What's gonna happen there?

Much still ensues ... and without spoiling much, the characters do find a way in the end to patch together the  conflicting strands of tradition and modernity.  Yes, it would appear that "There is more under heaven and earth that can fit under [_any_ one] philosophy ..."

* At the time of the writing of this review, machine translation of the text on links given above appears to work best using the Chrome browser rather than Firefox or MS Explorer.

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