A Rose is a Rose is a — rogue.
A Rose is a Rose is a — rogue.
Little Rose is just that — a seductive sweetheart-turned-spy in a fiercely framed film about espionage and stolen hearts and ideals.
It is also the name of an incredible movie that helps the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival (www.gershmany.org/pjff.php) kick off its new season's opening weekend with a spirited start.
Little Rose receives its Philadelphia premiere as the festival's second presentation, on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m., at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
This subtitled 2010 Polish film — which arrives here triumphant from the 2011 Tribeca International Film Festival — trades in the traffic of anti-Semitism in 1967/'68 Poland, where news of Israel's evisceration of Egypt in the Six-Day War sparks government fears that its David versus Goliath message will work against Poland's communist cause.
The Warsaw ghetto of politicos in power — puppets of the major players and mentors in the Soviet Union — wants to short-circuit any of the nascent instinct for insurrection among its nation's intelligentsia .
Roman, a member of the country's secret service, is instructed by one of his superiors to turn his lover into an infiltrator. Working as a secretary at a university where one of the professors is suspect — as Jew and Judas to the communist cause — she uses sex and seduction to play the part of mid-level Mata Hari, horrified to find she is falling in love for the mark who may not be Jewish after all.
Director/co-writer Jan Kidawa-Blonski blends The Spy Who Loved Me with the anti-Semite who hates him into a movie of shifting accusations and accrued acquiescence to the paranoia that made anyone with a Jewish-sounding name a perceived ally of Israel at the time.
The director has done his homework, basing this stirring saga on the autobiography of Polish writer Pawel Jasienica, whose story of '60s Polish anti-Jewish tirades resonates with a jolt in this new millennium of mindless and ageless attacks on Israel.
"I was too young at the time," the director — who is not Jewish — says of absorbing actual anti-Semitic incidents in his native land more than 40 years ago. "It was many years after" Poland's move against its Jews in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, "that my mother told me" of the purges and evacuation of many of that nation's Jews.
It was only after the Solidarity movement electrified the nation to seek freedom and a fresh start some 20 years later that Kidawa-Blonski felt compelled to make this story; the acclaimed director who once studied to be an architect knew that the foundation in preventing such abuses in the future meant that Poland must never forget its history of hate and heartlessness.
"I felt I must do it," he says of making the story, which took years to bring to the screen and which uses archival footage from 1967 and 1968. Those resurrected reels of government crackdowns against Jews serve Kidawa-Blonski as blunt backdrops steeped in reality.
What is an invention is Roman's roots, a twist on an already twisted character upended by the hate he fosters in the finale. "He is not based on anyone I ever knew," nor from the Jasienica book, says the director, but his type of tormentor "is probably someone who existed in Poland at the time."
Indeed, Roman wasn't built in a day, but is a complex character Kidawa-Blonski constructed carefully, cogently, with facility throughout the film until the cataclysmic revelations at film's end.
As for Little Rose, who ultimately is uprooted under Roman's tutelage from any moral underpinnings she started out with, her role in this love triangle has her squared off against her menacing mentor while seducing and surprisingly being seduced by her milquetoast of a mark.
The film's finale, in which mangled missions earn their miscreants their just rewards, is played powerfully, trailing off in a train ride of untracked schemes and conspiracies.
There are thorns and threats aplenty in Little Rose, which brilliantly assays the role of hatred as fertile ground for destroying all that it touches and tarnishes.
· · ·
The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival has unspooled a number of winners for this, its 31st season, with many of its screenings spread throughout the city and suburbs.
Special attention should go to its Nov. 12 screening of Restoration, which helps re-affirm the festival as one committed to works that stress the restorative value of extended family — despite the occasional tangle of emotional turmoil and tantrums.
This Israeli film, also subtitled, examines how familial love doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry — but needing to say it over and over again. Restoration is scripted in the heart of hope and healing; it is no surprise that it earned screenwriter Erez Kav-El the award for best script at this year's Sundance Festival.
It is a dance of a film worth partnering and attending when Restoration arrives at the Gershman Y later this month.