A man paces restlessly around his darkened apartment in Krakow. He is distressed and relieved, at once, when the doorbell rings. It is his wife, Krystyna (Aleksandra Slaska), who stops by, briefly, to tell him she will be back after work to take him for his “treatment.” But, Kuba (Gustaw Holoubek) does not know if he can last the day without a drink and stay away from “The Noose.”
Polish filmmaker Wojciech Has made his feature film debut in 1958 with “The Noose” and it can be favorably compared to the American classic on a man’s battle with alcoholism, Billy Wilder’s “Lost Weekend (1945).” The Polish filmmaker’s look at the disease centers on Kuba Kowalski, just getting over yet another binge, as he decides that he is going to get well, hence the “treatment. “
This day-in-the-life cautionary tale on the evil of drink is simply told with Kuba’s the main point of view. As the minutes slowly, excruciatingly slowly, tick by to Krystyna’s return, he struggles with his demons with diminishing success. Finally, he succumbs and heads to the nearest watering hole where he demands a glass of vodka. One leads to two, then three, four and more.
He meets an old ex-saxophone player whose life was ruined by his love of the bottle. They continue their binge, putting away more glasses of vodka until Kuba gets belligerent and starts a fight in the bar. Thrown out, he stumbles home, too late to go for his treatment. Krystyna, disappointed by him once again, leaves, promising to come by in the morning. Kuba continues his struggle with the bottle for the remainder of his night until….
Watching “The Noose,” it is hard to believe that this is a first feature film for Wojciech Has. It has the assured hand at the helm of a more seasoned director, but that could be due to Has’s decade plus making documentary shorts. He learned his craft well and, with a story by Has and Marek Hlasko, creates a film that is an indictment on the rampant alcoholism that plagued Poland and the rest of the Soviet block during the repressive Cold War years.
“The Noose,” shot in grainy black and white by Mieczyslaw Jahoda (who also acted as cinematographer on Has’s 1965 masterpiece, “The Saragasso Manuscript”), giving the film a smoky atmosphere that diffuses the light around Kuba. What we have here is the birth of a full-blown filmmaker whose work, I am embarrassed to say, was totally unfamiliar to me. Fortunately, I am correcting this woeful omission and loving it. I give it a B+.
Jacob Kowalski (Gustaw Holoubek) looks out the window of his grim apartment, watching a man clean and adjust a large, hanging clock. He's expecting Krystyna (Aleksandra Slaska) at 8. The tailor who lives downstairs arrives, having mended his coat, said lady having already paid for his services. Krystyna arrives and plans are made - Jacob is an alcoholic about to enter a rehabilitation facility. He tells her he hasn't had anything to drink for a full day and will return at 6 p.m. to prepare for his treatment on the next, but Jacob's day takes many strange turns.
You can already see the auteurist imprint of cowriter (with Marek Hlasko)/director Wojciech Has on his first feature, 1958's "The Noose (Petla)." The 24-hours-in-the-life-of-an-alcoholic film plays with time throughout, Kowalski noting frequently how much the time drags as Has jumps across hours in minutes. His window, through which that hanging clock is the first thing we see, is used by the filmmaker to frame external activity that reflects on his protagonist's internal struggle (as well as the passage of time). Action is seen indirectly in mirrors and Jacob 'Kuba' Kowalski's troubled psyche is a reflection of post-war Polish society (he will end up at a pub called Under the Eagle, the eagle being the symbol on Poland's coat of arms).
Jacob leaves his apartment, full of wire sculptures, mirrors leaning against walls, frames hung without pictures and little else, and the first person he runs into encourages him to join him for a drink. He explains, as he's already explained to the tailor, that he is following the road to sobriety. The friend jumps on the 'autobus,' Has already having injected a verbal pun on autobus and 'Antabus,' the pills Jacob will be taking, only to be involved in a horrific crash, onlookers speculating that the driver was drunk.
Everyone the man runs into has something to say about his reputation and intended path. He grows severe with an old lover who regrets her current life, wishing she'd told him she loved him back in the day. He's arrested for punching a man who's accused him of being 'blind drunk,' only to be let off by an officer who treats another old rummy kindly. With hours still left before he's due home, Kuba asks for the location of the nearest pub from a child (children playing are a constant) and quickly falls in with Rybicki (Stanislaw Milski), a man thrilled to have his vodka subsidized who informs him that the 'white room' treatment will never work.
A pub that is mostly empty in mid afternoon fills with the turn of one actor, the scene suddenly hours later in time. 'What do decent people do at 5 o'clock?' wonders Kuba. The evening progresses as we imagine many have before, time increasingly more difficult to grasp. Settled back in his apartment, Kuba waits for Krystyna's signal - three knocks - but Has teases us with false starts and that looming clock across the street calls for a decision.
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