Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barbara Brylska & Krystyna Mikolajewska in "Faraon" [1966 Poland]

Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Oscar-nominated epic "Faraon" [Eng. title: Pharaoh] is a rare and also interesting interpretation of ancient history and politics from communist Poland. It has the grandeur of a Cecile B. DeMille film, but rather than merely glossing over history, it is far more ambitious in its scope by turning into an allegorical study.

In fact, Egyptology had progressed so much since 1966 that we have little option but to look at events in the film from a fictional viewpoint. That however doesn't mean no effort had been made to make it look and feel authentic - far from it, a lot of detail had gone into the production design and watching the film is like browsing through the leaves of some lavish coffee table book. For instance they even rebuilt a royal river boat based on drawings from the fourth millennium BC, one that appears in just a single scene. Beyond the visual splendour though, there are passages of play where we see exquisite cinema as the director translates his vision into film, one that could not only relate to a modern world audience through their own historical experiences, but also Poland's own until recent turbulent history. The cinematography is sumptuous, the screenplay flawless, but the direction particularly raises its game during important passages of play. The costumes are of acceptable if not exceptional standard, although my opinion must've been made after Pasolini's "Medea" still fresh in mind. But this is a fine film nevertheless, and therefore Recommended Viewing.

Amazon.es DVD Link (comes with Spanish and Polish audio)
English Subtitles

The film charts the demise of a ruling dynasty in ancient Egypt - one that Ramesses XIII inherits. By this time, the kingdom effectively is run by priests overseeing the various ministries, with the Pharaoh more of a ceremonial figurehead than someone who could wield real power. The kingdom's coffers are empty and all the wealth are controlled by priests. With a restive population, a rebellious mercenary army, and the ever-powerful Assyrians breathing down their neck, an ambitious but immature Ramesses tries to wrest control over his kingdom's assets and wage war on Assyria instead of finding a peaceful alternative. His actions, paved with good intentions as it might be, is nevertheless misguided. It creates more adversaries than allies, not least with the overbearing priesthood. Any attempt to change the status quo is futile, Ramesses will soon learn.

Compilation: Krystyna Mikolajewska and Barbara Brylska
There's only brief nudity in the film - it is too conservative a film for that, but parts of it are also positively sensual, the reason for my post.

Barbara Brylska and Krystyna Mikolajewska in Faraon

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity save a nipple-slip in the scene where Ramesses first notices young and beautiful Sara, and instantly decides to take her with him despite knowing she's Jewish. Sara is played by a pretty Krystyna Mikolajewska.
  • Ramesses is persuaded to visit a temple by people willing to finance his planned campaign against Assyria, one overseen by Phoenician priestess Kama. Despite having to remain pure and virginal, she'd been instructed to seduce the future Pharaoh - all in the name of her fellow countrymen who are about to be invaded by Assyria. If this is how priestesses were clothed, how could one possibly expect men to look at them with faith in their eyes I wonder. I'm not surprised their religion is dead..! :)
  • Sara, now mother of Ramesses' child, pleads him to get rid of Kama (she's aware of his new mistress) in view of her ulterior motives. But Ramesses is just too proud to even worry about it.
  • When he visits Kama the next time, she rejects his gift and persuades him instead to throw Sara out because she'd given his son a Jewish first name, and therefore can't be a future Pharaoh. Kama by the way is played by a young and sensual Barbara Brylska.
  • I see Egyptians also invented the thong, worn rather fetchingly by Kama the priestess. Having seen off her adversary Sara, we're now made aware of her secret affair with Lycon, a Greek immigrant who looks a spitting image of Ramesses. This is followed by an orgy scene where Kama dances and entertains copulating guests.
  • Things don't go her way forever though - she soon finds herself caged by an all-knowing ministerial priesthood.

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