This is a town where work pays the bills and life begins after five o'clock.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Polish Wedding" springs from a deep sense of place and culture, but lacks the warmth and humor that might have made it soar. The movie's greatest strength-the performance of Lena Olin-might also have been a jarring note: Lena Olin in Detroit is inconceivable. And yet she convinces us. Before our eyes, this marvelous actress becomes a Polish matriarch in the working-class neighborhood of Hamtramck, Michigan.

In this tale of the sexual politics and culture of a small neighborhood, writer/director Theresa Connelly has paid tribute to the Polish-American community in which she grew up. This is a town where work pays the bills and life begins after five o'clock. Evenings and weekends are for the unfolding dramas within families, the secrets they keep and the lies they tell. The Pzoniaks, too many of them for comfort, live in a two-family house where they gather around the dinner table and allow their resentments to explode like mini-bombs.

Matriarch Jadzia (Lena Olin), whose son and daughter-in-law can barely manage the baby that forced their marriage, carps at them about their predicament. The baby cries, the parents groan, the meal disappears, and everyone goes off to work in the morning and returns to affairs of the heart at night.

The cellar window of the Pzoniak house is the passage into and out of the real world of life and love, and it is used most consistently by daughter Hala (Claire Danes), who is the focus both of the family and of this story.

Hala is the light in the lives of her mother, Jadzia (Ms. Olin), and father, Bolek (Gabriel Byrne), a cleaning woman and a baker who married young because of pregnancy. Seven children later (five still alive), the couple is celebrating the role of their only daughter as the symbol of the virgin in the annual church procession. Jadzia's euphoria is broken by the news that the newly anointed virgin is pregnant by the local policeman.

It is here that Lena Olin soars. Coming to a full boil as she sees her daughter following her own path to a trapped life, Jadzia shouts her defense: "This is my house, my kitchen, everything is mine!" Snuggling a baby here, showing compassion there, she pours forth her core: "Nothing is more sacred to me than this-making life and love." It is this fierce elemental drive that defines her when she faces a life choice of her own.

Gabriel Byrne quietly conveys the gentle sadness of a husband who wants only that his wife love him as he loves her. Claire Danes is fine as the very young Hala. But Lena Olin owns this movie. She makes Jadzia a life force, a matriarch who defines the lives of her family with primal love. The cleaning woman from Hamtramck cries out, "I'm a queen. I have five children. I'm a queen!" And so she is.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Fox Searchlight
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 2h1m

Copyright (c) Illusion

Return to Ellis Home Page