Film-Forward Review: [THE BIG ANIMAL]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Zygmunt (Jerzy Stuhr) & friend out on a stroll
Photo: Milestone

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed by: Jerzy Stuhr.
Produced by: Slawomir Rogowski.
Written by: Krzysztof Kieslowski, based on the novel by Kazimierz Orlos.
Director of Photography: Pawel Edelman.
Edited by: Elzbieta Kurkowska.
Music by: Abel Korzeniowski.
Released by Milestone.
Language: Polish with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Poland. 72 minutes. Not Rated.
With: Jerzy Stuhr & Anna Dymna.
DVD Features: An interview with Jerzy Stuhr (31 min.) The Making of The Big Animal (6 min.) Press kit. Trailer.

You have to be particularly hard-hearted not to be intrigued by the opening shot: a camel in a meadow stands alone as a caravan of trailers drive off into the distance. In the next scene, a middle-aged couple sits in front of a window eating supper in silence, which is broken when the woman looks out and asks her husband, Zygmunt, what’s that standing by the gate. The following day, Zygmunt causes a commotion taking his discovery on a walk through his Polish village. Children run out of school to pet the camel. Others gawk at it. The local photographer offers to pay Zygmunt to use the exotic animal as a photo prop, but he rejects all bids and offers. Like a pet dog, he leaves the camel outside while he rehearses in the town’s orchestra, and his wife looks after the two-humped animal while Zygmunt is works at a bank. At first, she resents the beast for stomping in her flower bed, but soon entreats schoolchildren to help her choose a name for the dromedary.

However, the exotic creature causes a maelstrom in the town. Instead of torches, the townspeople raise complaints. Out of fear and jealousy for the couple’s serendipitous fortune in finding such an unusual, passive, and obedient animal, the town council compiles a list of grievances. The town’s ire is raised further when the couple build a stable for the animal ("conspicuous consumption”), trying their best to make the structure as Arabesque as possible (to make the animal feel more at home).

In the making-of DVD extra, director Jerzy Stuhr states he had set out to explore intolerance among ordinary people, and he has done so in a beguiling way. This film is a natural for tweens and teens, like The Yearling or the British film Ring of Bright Water, but instead of a deer or an otter, the object of love is an inscrutable, lumbering, and regal curiosity. (If the film were rated, it would be the rare G-rated movie that’s strongly appealing to both adults and children.) The sparse and direct dialogue will undermine any complaints about reading subtitles.

As the childless couple, Stuhr and Anna Dymna understatedly play their roles as if knowing there’s no sense in trying to compete with an animal that effortlessly steals the focus. (The droll tone almost makes this fable feel British – all that’s missing is the daffy vicar and a gardening competition.) Stuhr, also the director, must have realized this too, filming a dinner scene with the camel standing outside of the home, sticking its head onto the window sill for its portion of the salad course. Framed in the center between the couple and lit by the dining alcove’s overhead light, not only is the eye drawn to the giant creature, its head looms larger than life. The austere black-and-white cinematography by Oscar-winner Pawel Edelman (The Pianist) lends the fable a timeless quality – it could have taken place anytime in the recent past – and an extraordinary sheen to the sleepy burg and its extraordinary visitor. Kent Turner
September 26, 2006



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us