Black Sun, dir. Krzysztof Zanussi
photo: Dawid Skoblewski

Black Sun,
dir. Krzysztof Zanussi

BY Bartosz Żurawiecki

The Polish Zanussi unwaveringly refuses to appear in public in anything but a suit and tie. While Zanussi abroad might not go informal, he’ll at least undo a button or two

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Oh, the things I heard about this movie before I even saw it! It was said to be an oddity, soaring kitsch, and that Zanussi had completely gone off the deep end. I have now seen the film and can confirm these opinions – it is in fact an anachronistic picture. I would also venture that Zanussi in Poland and Zanussi abroad aren’t quite the same Zanussi. The artist’s local incarnation has been become rather preachy in recent years. His latest films bemoan the downfall of morality, religion, art, philosophy, and just about everything else. They are staged, as a friend put it, “between the lectern and the library”, with occasional side trips to banquets hosted by diplomatic, ecclesiastic, and business circles.

The Polish Zanussi unwaveringly refuses to appear in public in anything but a suit and tie. While Zanussi abroad might not go informal, he’ll at least undo a button or two. Black Sun is a candid explanation of how to interpret Zanussi’s films in order to extract their most interesting and often hidden meanings. Not through the language of religious discourse, as the director himself maintains, nor through the language of the “cinema of moral concern”, as lazy critics have been doing for years. Zanussi speaks to us in the language of modernism, and if we are to look beyond banal and hypocritical assertions, we must join him in his modernist game.

The film supposedly takes place in modern times. The screenplay was based on a play written by Rocco Familiari, which in turn was inspired by an event that occurred twenty years ago. Nevertheless, the story appears to have been taken straight out of the late 19th century. This anachronistic atmosphere is emphasised by the set, which features the streets, historical monuments, and opulent interiors of the Sicilian city of Catania. Black Sun might just as well have been an adaptation of a lost story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz or a lesser-known film by Lucchino Visconti.

The story revolves around a selfless crime. One degenerate by the name of Salvo (Kaspar Capparoni) shoots and kills a beautiful young man sleeping on the terrace of his own home. The victim’s wife Agata (Valeria Golino), maddened with grief and love, and distrustful of the authorities, decides to track down and punish the murderer herself. Zanussi of course attempts to inscribe in the story the themes of God, Satan, the present of evil in the world, and the flaws of earthly justice. But these tangents ring hollow, especially when the director expresses them through the mouth of the local police commissioner, whose philosophical musings prevent him from getting any work done.

The murdered Manfredi (Lorenzo Balducci) is depicted as an angel. He is reflected in a winged being of otherworldly beauty that hangs in the protagonists’ home and makes recurring appearances throughout the film. The murderer, an unshaven man with long, greasy hair and one glass eye, is thus the devil. But this religious symbolism merely serves to emphasise the erotic aspect of the film. Coveting his beauty, happiness, and body, Salvo kills Manfredi. The latter lives in a sadomasochistic relationship with his much younger brother, whom he punishes for even the slightest transgressions. The shooting of Manfredi is at once an attempt by Salvo to kill his own evil desires.

The film opens with the two lovers sharing a naked dance. While they speak as if playing in a symbolic drama (Zanussi never had an ear or an eye for intimate scenes), it should be noted that the director of Camouflage has only indulged in a similar “orgy” of nudity once before, in the prolog to another “foreign” film, Imperative. The male body remains at the center of Black Sun until the end. We see the corpse of Manfredi, whose ghost (dressed in a proper suit) regularly appears to Agata. At the morgue, the woman attempts to dress her husband in burial clothing. To the shock of everyone around here, she initially refuses to have him buried. Her obsessive feelings gradually take on an necrophilic aura. What was once “godly love”, marital love, becomes “a love that dares not utter its name”. A love that can only find fulfillment in death, as there is no place for it on this earth.

This modernist narrative rings anachronistic and – to put it bluntly – false, especially in the context of Zanussi’s on- and off-screen preachiness. The mocking reviews of Black Sun thus come as no surprise. I would not reject the film outright, however, as there is much to be found behind its old-fashioned façade.

Tekst dostępny na licencji Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL.

Tekst dostępny na licencji Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL.