Krystyna Janda's overwhelming performance gives potency to Poland's wrenching but mesmerizing "The Interrogation." A harrowing prison drama written and directed by Richard Bugajski, this difficult but worthwhile film looks at the triumph of the individual over the cruel, all-powerful state.
Janda, who garnered the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is Tonia, a carefree cabaret singer who falls victim to the arbitrary abuse of power that became known as Stalinism in 1950s Poland. A hard-drinking, effervescent coquette, she is first seduced by, then locked away by the secret police who get her drunk and take her to jail one evening after she quarrels with her husband.
Certain that it must be a mistake, she strives in vain to convince the authorities that she is innocent, but they hold her in prison for a miserable five years. Though seemingly on the spoiled side, the singer calls on tremendous reserves of inner strength to survive the horrors of her imprisonment. She is stripped, beaten, forced to drink spittle, starved and nearly drowned, but she refuses to confess to trumped-up charges against her.
After her husband visits her only to say he is divorcing her, she finally breaks and tries suicide by biting open her wrists. One of the film's most gruesome scenes, this leads to her affair with her young, slightly sympathetic Communist jailer, a respite that leaves her pregnant and leads to further injustices against her.
Completed in 1982, three months after martial law was declared, "The Interrogation" was officially banned for its inflammatory subject -- the rape of the human spirit, pitilessly dramatized. There are, of course, plenty of rapists out there, so it never hurts to endure the occasional object lesson. And endure is the operative word.
The Interrogation, at the Biograph, is in Polish with English subtitles and is not rated but contains nudity and violence.