J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Martin Scorsese Presents: Jump

He is possibly a con man or a holy fool. Either way, the Stranger has a rather torturous relationship with reality. Nobody remembers him, yet he quickly finds himself enmeshed in the town’s Twin Peaks-ish intrigues. It will be a decidedly strange civic celebration when the Stranger teaches the town to dance the “Salto” in Tadeusz Konwicki’s Jump, which screens with newly translated subtitles and a restored print as a handpicked selection of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Presumably, the man who might be named Kowalski or possibly Malinowski, has a good reasons for jumping off a speeding train. Barging in on his unsuspecting host, he claims to have known the older man when he lived in town way back when. The hospitable chap does not remember the Stranger, but he assumes this is due to the lingering effects of his wartime post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the Stranger’s paranoid ravings suggest his mental state is far more questionable than his host’s. Nevertheless, he sort of pulls it together when he is around Helena, his host’s temptress daughter (whom the Stranger makes a show of mistaking for her mother).

As he ambles through the town and the plot, the Stranger apparently cures sick children, freaks out a fortune teller, and underwhelms in his efforts to seduce Helena. Konwicki will reveal all in the closing minutes, but not before indulging in sorts of trippy weirdness. Jump (a.k.a. Salto) is indeed a product of the 1960’s and Konwicki certainly captures the tenor of the time.

Unfortunately, Jump also carries some rather unintentional and uncomfortable irony. In real life, Zbigniew Cybulski (often dubbed the Polish James Dean) tragically died making a leap from a moving train, much like the one that opens the film. Konwicki penned some brilliant screenplays and novels, but his Jump script is more of an invitation to play than a cohesive narrative. Still, there are bits and pieces that stick in the soul, particularly the old man who survived the war despite looking like Blumenfeld, a famous Jewish actor—and might indeed actually be Blumenfeld, as the Stranger insists.

Regardless of what fate had in store, Cybulski is perfect as the Stranger, somewhat resembling Marcello Mastroianni in , when not raging like a madman at whomever and whatever. The large ensemble is definitely a hodge-podge, but Wlodzimierz Borunski taps into some deeply sad places as the man who claims not to be Blumenfeld.

Konwicki and cinematographer Kurt Weber craft some striking images and the overall tone of the film is considerably more playful than you would expect from a Warsaw Pact-era head trip. In fact, things get pleasantly funky when it comes time to do the Salto. Recommended for adventurous viewers, Jump screens tomorrow (2/9) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

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