The Secret of Little Rose – Kinoteka 2024

Reviewer: Rachel Kent

Writer: Agatha Dominik and Maciej Karpinski

Director: Jan Kidawa-Blonski

Film sequels usually follow the formula of the one that went before. Little Rose 2, while it uses the same actors, playing the same character, is markedly different from the bleak historical drama of fourteen years ago.

The 2010 film takes place in the late 1960’s during an ugly period in Poland’s not very distant history, when, like most Warsaw Pact countries , it had a hyper-active secret police. Dissidents of any kind were oppressed and ‘Zionists’ forcefully encouraged to leave. The film ends with Roman Rozek (Robert Wiekiewicz) gloomily boarding a train to Vienna, having been outed as Roman Rosen. His lover Kamila looks miserably down form the street and then walks away, visibly pregnant. Roman doesn’t deserve much sympathy. He had enthusiastically embraced the anti-Semitic movement until it caught up with him. He persuaded Kamila to spy on a distinguished writer, and , when she fell in love with him too, arranged for him to fall out of a window.

Part 2 is set in the enlightened present. Joanna , daughter of Kamila and the defenestrated Warcewski, is an MEP and award-winning champion of women’s rights. Not for her the grim, constantly fearful life her mother once endured . She has a glittering career and an adoring marriage to a world-famous composer. Then he is killed in an Islamic terror attack. Returning from identifying his body, overwhelmed with grief, she gives some intemperate answers to journalists. A right-wing party pounces on them and invites her to run for president. People “won’t vote for a gay man or a person with a Jewish background” but they might go for a woman. Then the blackmail begins, forcing her to uncover the story of her parents -all three of them.

“Those were different times,” says an older, white-bearded Roman, prone to patriarchal sighing. Beneath the romance, Little Rose was a sordid story of a man sexually exploiting a young woman. Little Rose 2 was co-written by Agatha Dominik, and this time the woman has the power. Joanna can deal with most situations, including physically dangerous ones: she knows how to use a pepper spray. The men in her life, her slippery PA Ryszard and her devoted friend David, are very much supporting cast. There are flickers of romance, but the relationships that matter to the plot are in the past. Joanna is a complex figure in a confusing situation. She finds herself simultaneously dealing with grief, recalibrating her relationship with her mother, and pivoting in her career. She claims to be “an activist not a politician” – but then we watch as she fails to act – and there goes the LGBTQ vote.

All the acting is excellent. Janusz Gajos as the toadlike Chairman Marczuk is not meant to be likeable, but you do feel sorry for him when Joanna springs a surprise at the end. Magdalena Bocarska’s is a virtuoso performance. She plays Joanna, young Kamila ( as she did in 2010, winning an award for it) and – most impressively, with the help of Waldemar Pokromski’s make-up team, Kamila as an old woman. The flashback scenes are mostly shot at a distance, and bathed in the pale light of the seventies. Present day Joanna has wonderfully mobile features that convey a huge range of emotions. As older Kamila she convinces completely. She moves slowly and carefully, her voice is deeper and we understand the character’s complicated pain.

There are some striking images. We look down on a street cleaning scene – the orange and tangerine shades of the truck and the workers’ jackets contrast with the misty blue of morning, and somehow draw attention to a bearded figure leaning against a wall. We recognise him from the concert of the night before. However, the film in general is almost too beautiful to be taken seriously. Joanna lives in a splendid mansion -do all MEP’s live like this? She’s clearly having regular keratin treatments – if she ever has a hair out of place it’s a few strands artfully arranged. She dresses beautifully, with the perfect outfit for every occasion – even unscheduled ones like receiving her late husband’s suitcases. It’s easy to get distracted by the glamour, when this is a serious story . It poses serious questions. How harshly should one generation judge another? Is every action forgivable? Would you do anything for love? Or fear?

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2024 takes place in venues across London 6 – 28 March.

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After the fall

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