Don Juan in postwar Warsaw, not quite the innocent of Byron’s poem but nevertheless redeemed for the sake of a generation. A scooter ride shows wreckage still in sight, the first view of the young doctor (Tadeusz Lomnicki) lingers on the bohemian pad’s cracked walls as the latest in a line of discarded lovers (Wanda Koczeska) waits outside. The boxing match by the clinic cuts to the raucous crowd at a jazz concert (with a marvelous glimpse of Roman Polanski wrestling backstage with a cello roughly twice his height), both locales are shot like Viennese storehouses circa The Third Man. Andrzej Wajda can’t resist bulbous visual grandiloquence, but Jerzy Skolimowski’s contributions to the Jerzy Andrzejewski screenplay thankfully insist on the intimacy and piquancy of a tango. A tour of the sidewalk cafés at dusk gives you a minute or so of some Polish Juliette Gréco, the spiky gamine (Krystyna Stypulkowska) turns down the sidekick (Zbigniew Cybulski) but accepts Lomnicki as a partner in a snippy, night-long psychological duel. The two swig vodka, crawl under tables, reveal dreams grudgingly; the challenge is to seduce each other without disclosing passion. Is sex the only thing at stake? "A game stops being amusing when it is only a game." "Untamed thoughts and emotions" are needed for rebellion, but Lomnicki saves most of his ardor for crossword puzzles. Still, fissures appear in the jaded mask: He loses his trousers in a bout of strip-matchbox (a piece of clothing per flip) but regains his standing, Stypulkowska is down to bra and panties when his gallantry kicks in. Wajda’s The Clock, or perhaps Skolimowski’s Before Sunrise. A reverse tracking shot at the crack of dawn as wastrels amble down the street gives a tactile sense of a night’s drunkenness sliding into sobriety, the title is recalled: "In ancient times, philosophers would seek treasures and medicines. We innocent sorcerers seek them in order to kill our own hopes." With Kalina Jedrusik, Teresa Szmigielówna, and Andrzej Nowakowski. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce