DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

FROM A FAR COUNTRY: JOHN PAUL II  (TV) (director/writer: Krzysztof Zanussi; screenwriters: story by Diego Fabbri/Andrzej Kijowski/Vincenzo Labella/ Jan Józef Szczepanski; cinematographer: Slavomir Idziak; editors: Antony Gibbs/Paolo Fabbri / Waldemar Król; music: Wojciech Kilar; cast: Warren Clarke (Wladek), Sam Neill (Marian), Christopher Cazenove (Tadek), Lisa Harrow (Wanda), Maurice Denham (Archbishop Sapieha), John Welsh (Priest), Emma Relph (Magda), Cezary Morawski (John Paul II), Daniel Olbrychski (Captain), Jonathan Blake (Jozef), Liliana Glabczynska (Nun), Anne Dyson (Wladek's mother), Carol Gillies (Wladek's Wife), Jerzy Stuhr (Engineer), Andrew Seear (Stefan, engineer), Andrzej Zarnecki (Karol's father), Michael Jayston (narrator); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wilford Lloyd Baums; Legacy; 1981-Poland/Italy/UK-in Polish and mostly English, with English subtitles if needed )

"A non-critical respectful biopic of Pope John Paul II."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A non-critical respectful biopic of Pope John Paul II, that begins in 1926 with him as a six-year-old attending with his soldier father (Andrzej Zarnecki), in his hometown of Kalwania, an Easter re-enactment of the crucifixion. It ends in 1979, when as the newly elected pope visits Cracow, Poland and performs an outdoor public mass. He served as pope from 1978 until his death in 2005, making him the second longest serving pope. But the pic offers no comments of him as pope except to say he was cheered in Poland by both atheists and Catholics.

The docudrama is based on an idea by Diego Fabbri and is co-written by noted Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi ("Life for Life"/"Camouflage"/"The Constant Factor") and Andrzej Kijowski, Vincenzo Labella and Jan Józef Szczepanski. It gives us a rough idea of the pope's path to the Vatican by following events through the calender of how the pope had to overcome such obstacles as his mother's death when he was an 8-year-old named Karol Józef Wojtyła and his father's death when he was secretly studying to be a priest while involved in an underground college program to study Polish literature, whereby he avoided the labor camps working in construction in Solvay during the German occupation in 1940. It gives us brief background stories of his acquaintances and family, how Karol was encouraged by Archbishop Sapieha (Maurice Denham) to become a priest and was ordained in 1946 after studying in Rome and later in Belgium and France. Then how he lived as a priest under the oppressive rule of the Stalinist communists when the war ended, briefly mentioning he served as the archbishop of Cracow from 1958-1964. It mentions  the public's angry reactions to the communists not allowing the building of a church in Nova Huta in 1968, one that he favored, and the church's siding with the student and worker strikes in Gdansk in 1970. It briefly notes the scholarly priest's rise to be the cardinal of  San Cesareo in Palatio from 1967–1978, and the joy and hope the new pope brought to the Polish people when he was elected pope in 1978.

It's a television enterprise made in cooperation with Film Polski. It's meant to be inspiring to the pope's many faithful followers, while providing a laundry list sampling of the pope's life for those who wish to know more of him prior to being pope. It's well produced and generally informative, but  lacks intimacy or depth. There's mostly archival footage of the pope giving the pic an air of authenticity, as well as a background story to help the uninitiated understand the travails of Poland when occupied by the Nazis and then the Soviet Communists.

An unseen narrator (Michael Jayston) crisply moves the story along. Though Cezary Morawski plays the pope, we never see his face in his brief appearances.

REVIEWED ON 1/20/2014       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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