Novelist turned filmmaker Tadeusz Konwicki excelled at crafting an atmosphere of the otherworldly on the screen. Though 1965’s Jump may be more widely known and highly regarded, a similar milieu pervades The Last Day of Summer (1958), Konwici’s first film behind the camera. Ostensibly a straightforward relationship drama far more in the social realist vein typical of Polish cinema at that time, it contains a lyrical quality that elevates an otherwise conventional allegory. It provides the lens through which to discover a poetry that from which a far less literal understanding of the film can transform it from littoral rhyme to deeply poignant ode.
The opening notes involve a young woman (Irena Laskowska, pictured right) bathing on the beach and the appearance of a young man (Jan Machulski, also right) who unabashedly stares at her despite her protestations. What follows are furtive exchanges in which the two struggle to communicate, their glances met with conflicting emotions and their words misunderstood, or utterly incomprehensible. In this elegantly paired down relationship, many attribute Konwicki’s designs to explore the obstacles that stand in the path of Poland and her people reconnecting with themselves or with others, as the shadow of the Second World War and Soviet control loom in the sea.
The pendulum of beaching waves is swung against the slow but abrupt editing crafting a intense sense of danger and panic despite the narrative remaining as spartan as the surroundings. There are moments of of clarity in the disconnected relationship, but they are as fleeting as the pictures the woman idly draws in the sand. Her suitor is prone to wading into the sea, giving up all together, but in fragmentary clues lie the possibility that the choice is not his but hers. The most common and clear reading of The Last Day of Summer can be further enriched by a supposition that, like in Konwicki’s later work Jump, this may not be the world of the living. Suddenly her references to a lover lost during the war and their faint sense of foggy recognition develope a complementary and equally touching narrative. This beach is not only the despairing wasteland from which Poland must – and may not – emerge, but the limbo in which two lovers fingers can tough, but they are unable to hold hands. The political and personal is deftly intertwined in what is actually an otherwise slight debut. Konwicki’s recognised dexterity as an author lends this quietly moving, but simplistic romance a profound and far-reaching resonance from awkward opening stanza to bittersweet finale.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson