Why great directors occasionally deliver an outrageous clunker is anyone's guess, but here's another one for the books -- "A Love in Germany," Andrzej Wajda's meditation on the banality of evil, with the emphasis on banality. Lurching from ponderous historical lessons to thick satire, the movie has a rheumy muzziness. Maybe Wajda had a 10-week head cold.

The action takes place in flashbacks -- a journalist returns to his German home town, where his mother, Paulina (Hanna Schygulla) had been imprisoned for consorting with a Polish prisoner of war (a pale and unintelligible Piotr Lysak) while her husband was away at war.

Why she did it remains a mystery -- there's a brief exchange of glances while he helps her load some crates, and before you know it, they're both breathing heavily off in the woods. Their doomed romance is as airy and adolescent as Romeo and Juliet's, so the movie has to strain to make anything of it.

Much of the fault lies with Schygulla. She has the opalescent skin and golden ringlets of an angel, but her acting belies it -- she's all frazzled histrionics, grimacing like a heroine of the silent era, throwing her hands in the air with a screech. Schygulla creates Paulina as a cartoon vamp, dragging a man to his death for no reason but boredom. But her campy, exaggerated style (the airs, really, of a drag queen) makes no sense in a movie made with such symphonic solemnity. She and Wajda come out of different universes.

As with all of Wajda's movies, "A Love in Germany" has something to say about the Polish national condition (when a character opines, "Our idiotic past -- it'll hound us forever," you imagine the line chiseled on Wajda's tombstone), but that something is hard to figure. Instead of Russians, the villains are Germans, but Wajda paints them as refugees from "Hogan's Heroes" (there's even a Sgt. Schultz). They're bumbling clowns, and oddly, their Nazi hearts are romantic -- when the affair is discovered, they try to save the POW by "Germanizing" him, measuring the girth of his cranium and inspecting the color of his eyes to see if he's sufficiently Aryan.

The POW refuses their help, (he's a Pole, by gum!) so it's off to the grave. It's a sort of reverse image of Lina Wertmuller's "Seven Beauties," where the hero would do anything to survive the Nazis. "A Love in Germany" has no love and few real Germans, to which the narrator replies, "What really happened will always remain a mystery." It's good that we have journalists around to tell us these things.

A Love in Germany, at the K-B Janus, is rated R; it contains nudity in sexual situations and some violence.