Stanislaw Wokulski (Mariusz Dmochowlski) is an enterprising merchant in Warsaw, circa 1878, who amassed a fortune selling arms and supplies to the Czar’s army in Russia’s war against Turkey. Now, with his wealth, he works to influence the Polish aristocracy in the city, especially Izabela Lecki (Beata Tyszkiewicz), the beautiful daughter of a bankrupt noble in “Lalka.”
Wojciech Jerzy Has began making feature films with his 1958 debut, “The Noose.” By the time he made “Lalka (The Doll)” in 1958, the filmmaker had eight films under his belt, including the undeniable masterpiece, “The Saragossa Manuscript (1965).” “Lalka” is the first Has film to be shot in color, adding an addition layer of atmosphere to the filmmaker’s formidable palette of cinematic technique.
Has adapted the 19th Century novel by Boleslaw Prus, a best seller in Poland back in 1890, and creates a drama about ambition, wealth, obsession and class distinction as seen through the eyes of Wokulski. He represents new money in Warsaw, a member of the merchant class who, despite his wealth, is disdained by the aristocracy. That does not deter Stanislaw from his affections for Izabela, who is merely amused by the shopkeeper’s attentions.
“Lalka” does a terrific job in immersing the viewer into the upper strata of Polish society as Wokulski, initially, makes inroads ingratiating him to the money-needy aristocrats. His downfall will be his unreturned love for Izabela, whose father, Tomasz (Jan Kreczmar), is heavily in debt to Stanislaw. Will the merchant break the glass ceiling and be treated as an equal to the aristocrats?
Finding a hidden gem like the films of Wojciech Jerzy Has is an experience that most cinephiles rarely get to experience. For a film nut, this is like finding the Holy Grail. “Lalka” is a near masterpiece and Has deserves the belated attention to a great filmmaker – thanks to Martin Scorsese, who brought the Polish auteur to new light. I give it an A-.
Laura also gives "Lalka (The Doll)" an A-.
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