Film: Brzezina (The Birch Wood) 1970

17 Jan

“From my window in the sanatorium, I saw things that could have been beautiful if I had been able to touch them. But I never touched them and never will.”

In December I watched the Polish film “Brzezina” or “The Birch Wood” (1970) directed by Andrzej Wajda and based on a short story by Jarosław_Iwaszkiewicz. I found it just…. captivating! The title alone was alluring to me because I love birches and I find them the most poetic and gentle of all trees. The film is set in the 1920s and it starts with a pale and sickly looking yet smiling young man called Stanisław returning home to a cottage in the woods where his brother Bronisław, a widower, lives with his young daughter Ola. Stanisław, a pianist and a man who has travelled and seen the world, is at once enchanted with the peacefulness, greenness and fresh air of the countryside, but something is not quite right. The atmosphere is tense; Stanislaw may be smiling and delighting in nature but Bronislaw is clearly agitated, shouting both at his maid and at his daughter who, as we see later in the film, seems lonely and neglected, often by herself, playing with a broken doll, sitting on a swing or visiting her mother’s grave in the birch forest. The film is full of such poetic scenes; poetic both in mood and visuals. The birch woods and blooming meadows certainly provide a lot of visual delights.

A very poignant scene in the film is around the fourteenth minute; in the evening Stanislaw is playing piano and Bronislaw comes to his room and tell him that the music is going on his nerves, and Stanislaw, smiling a smile tinged with nostalgia, dreaminess and melancholy, responds by saying that the music is irritating him too because it reminds him of a world that he never really got to know well; a world that he can never return to. Later in the conversation Stanislaw admits to his brother that he returned home to die because he is suffering from consumption. Bronislaw, who had not so long ago lost his wife, is disturbed at the thought of death in his house again, but his sadness never manifests itself in tears and gentleness, but rather through drinking and shouting, especially at his timid daughter Ola who is obviously frightened of him in many scenes.

Bronislaw is a desperate broken man badly coping with his wife’s death, and the handsome starry-eyed Stanislaw is desperate to live, to taste the life that is seeping away from him like sand in a sand clock. His eyes shine with a desire for life to the point that it’s tragic. The film shows two people, two brothers, who have completely different situations in life and it compares their two different life philosophies, or approaches to life. Stanislaw would give everything just to be healthy and strong again, and Bronislaw seems oblivious to all the good things he still has in life, such as his sweet little daughter Ola, and he allows himself to sink into grief and bitterness, giving away the precious life he has, drinking it away, he is alive but not really living. When you think of Stanislaw, so eager to live and so enchanted with music, nature and the world around him, it truly seems ungrateful to treat life the way Bronislaw does, to waste it away, to be “dead” before you actually die. It almost seems a sacrilegious to throw life away. Still, there’s a very Slavic sadness to this film which I like a lot. Also, now that I think of it, Ola reminds me of one of my best friends from childhood whose mother had also died when she was very little, the same blonde hair and timidness…

4 Responses to “Film: Brzezina (The Birch Wood) 1970”

  1. smilla72 21st Jan 2021 at 6:05 pm #

    I haven’t seen this movie but your description makes appetite. Perhaps I’ll find it on Amazon. I have always been fascinated by young female movie characters – much more than by male characters. And there is one type of girl that haunts me (in a positive sense) since my childhood (when I was addicted to Pippi Longstocking): girls who don’t fit into society or into their family/community. That’s why I love Winona Ryder so much. There are movies that praise tribalism and then there are movies that praise individualism. I am allergic against tribalism. I love individualists like Stanislaw and Pippi..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. smilla72 24th Jan 2021 at 7:38 am #

    I watched the movie and I adore it!! As you know I am a big Ingmar Bergman fan, and this movie stands on the same level as Bergman’s masterpieces. The portrait of two totally different brothers or sisters is always a very inspiring topic because I am myself the opposite of my brother. I strongly recommend Bergman’s « The Silence » about the relationship between two very different sisters!! In « The Birch Wood » I like the outdoor scenes (especially those in sunlight on the meadow at the lake) more than the dark indoor scenes but that’s subjective taste. My childhood house is bordered by an alley of birch trees so they are quite familiar to me. More importantly I’d like to point out that we people from Western Europe we have always had a sort of arrogance towards people from Eastern Europe. We think that communism has totally suffocated the creative energy so vibrant in the 19th Century in Eastern Europe, and I think that was true under Stalin and Ceaucescu. But there were so brilliant movie makers in other communist countries! And even in URSS there were geniuses at work (think of Eisenstein or Chostakovich!!). Today Western European have sacrificed national pride and submitted to the dictature of political correctness. And it it political correctness that stiffens creative energy. I can testify it because I worked in the publishing business for 14 years. The true diversity has been lost because political correctness kills diversity. We tend to see the political developments in Eastern Europe as « populism » but what’s the opposition of « populism »? Bureaucracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 24th Jan 2021 at 7:19 pm #

      I am glad you enjoyed the film as much as I have! I’m always happy if I can inspire someone to watch a film or read a book which I liked. It’s nice to share things of beauty with other people. I totally agree about political correctness and I do feel that in many ways the past decades had more freedom when it comes to artistic expression. But I for one couldn’t care less about political correctness and I will never bow down to it, on this blog and in everything else in life I will always say that I mean, it is not in my nature to censor myself, I am not capable of that.

      Liked by 1 person

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