Surreality dons a cool sixties swagger in Polish novelist Tadeusz Konwicki’s intriguing and vaguely baffling Jump (1965). Abandoning the social realism with which many of his cinematic compatriots approached the medium in the aftermath of the war – and with which he initially made his name in print – he creates an elliptical and illusory narrative. It’s constructed around its star Zbigniew Cybulski, who is decked in a leather jacket and dark glasses, channeling James Dean as well as his own earlier role in Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958). An amalgamation of fraudster and messiah, his absurdist sojourn in a small hamlet prods at the veneer of identities rebuilt from the rubble.
Cybulski begins and ends on an empty train, heading who-knows-where. In the opening scene he leaps from it and stumbles into a nearby town that he claims to have known during the war. Quite whether this is true remains enigmatically unknown, as does the protagonist. He goes by multiple names – Kowalski, Malinowski, Karol – and his story slips and slides depending on who he’s speaking to. His mysteries are wrapped in the riddles of his suggestive dialogue, spinning a shifting mythology whilst committing apparently miraculous acts one minute, and flirting with a young woman the next. All the while the actions builds towards a revered annual celebration as Karol engages with the various inhabitants of this modest community in increasingly strange and unreal exchanges.
This waltz around the fringes of physical truth provides the guiding steps of an unlikely masquerade – which fittingly culminates in Karol leading the populace in a ‘salto’ and gives the film its original Polish title. The word denotes a rhythmic dance movement and is a useful way to consider Konwicki’s piece, which glissades around the town taking in the sights and exploring the stories of its denizens. The evisceration of Poland’s historical identity during the war is evident in more than one of the characters: Gustaw Holoubek plays Karol’s host, who struggles to remember if the two know one another; Wlodzimierz Borunski claims to be a famous Jewish actor named Blumenfeld but his conviction wavers. This is perhaps due to Cybulski’s needling, which can be read as jocular or accusatory, his arrival in the town (and departure, suggestive of a cyclical future) frame him as a catalyst of sorts.
His motivations remain clouded, however, and Konwicki playfully eludes to this when Cybulski offers his shades to the audience, a tantilising invitation to comprehend the world through his eyes. The reason for all of the underlying uncertainty is doubtlessly allegorical, but it might also be explained by theories of what precisely the town is. One character suggests that all of the residents are dead – is this perhaps an unofficial sequel to Ashes and Diamonds? – and this dazed purgatory makes for a compelling interpretation, mirroring one potential reading of the director’s debut, The Last Day of Summer (1958). Or perhaps such context is unnecessary, and it’s best to enjoy Jump purely as a dance with identity and reality, and Cybulski the Premier danseur noble destined to lead it for eternity. He’ll certainly look cool doing it.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson