Andrzej Wajda arrives late at the meta-rumination party of Fellini, Godard, and Antonioni, with a motive of his own: The untimely death of rascal-superstar Zbigniew Cybulski, the auteur's Ashes and Diamonds muse. His fatal train accident is coincidentally enacted in the studio by the filmmaker (Andrzej Lapicki), who is filling in for the missing leading man; Altman's The James Dean Story provides the structure, built around a void filled with self-reflexive gleanings ("It's your film but our lives," the auteur's wife protests). The main actress (Elzbieta Czyzewska) is also married to the elusive star, neglected at a trendy bash she offers herself to the camera, Lapicki's assistant is in the closet, jotting it all down ("What incredible dialogue"). Wajda plunks the rowdy revelers in a carousel and spins it faster and faster until they're part of a mesmerist wheel, before going back to his essayistic games -- twin actresses warring before a blank wall acknowledge Bergman, warriors on a snowfield reflect Kurosawa (or is it Eisenstein?). When Cybulski is killed, the funeral procession locates a trio of mourning girls following the film cans piled up on a dolly; the production is stalled until the director decides to shift the focus of the plot to the star's absence (or rather, to his own presence). The scenario is faddish as all get out, yet the ambiguity of the situation (the title exacerbates the artist's tendencies to exploit his subjects) refreshingly takes Wajda away from his habitual ponderousness and toward more ad-libbed territory, more open and elastic. Daniel Olbrychski, here presented as Cybulski's successor both in Polish cinema and in Wajda's filmography, inquires about the late actor's wartime myths and reaffirms them, graciously -- cast and crew understand that when dealing with a national hero you print the legend, even if in "fragments and scraps." With Beata Tyszkiewicz, Witold Holtz, Malgorzata Potocka, and Bogumil Kobiela.
--- Fernando F. Croce