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Life As a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

Inspired by a piece of graffiti director Krzysztof Zanussi saw near his home, Life begins in medieval France, with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux riding a donkey and calling for people to take part in crusades. In one of the towns he is passing through, a horse thief is about to be executed. The monk asks permission to prepare the thief for death. Suddenly, it turns out that we are on a film set, where the 60-year-old Tomasz Berg (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz) is the crew’s doctor. Tomasz suspects that he himself might be ill, and tests conducted back in Poland confirm that he is suffering from terminal cancer. As a rationalist and cynic who is disappointed with life, Tomasz now finds himself grappling with mystical-philosophical issues he had previously avoided.

Both affecting and wryly humorous, Zanussi’s film is a balanced and honest look at confronting one’s mortality. ‘It is not a story about an attempt to escape death,’ says the director, ‘but rather the story of a man who wants to be ready for death and sees it as an inevitable, natural part of life.’ The winner of major prizes at the Moscow and Gdynia film festivals, this is one of the strongest of Zanussi’s recent films.

The title was inspired by a wall graffiti which drew the director’s attention. The film begins in medieval France, with Bernard of Clairvaux, mystic and the founder of the Cistercian order, riding a donkey and calling people to take part in crusades. In one of the towns he is passing by, a horse thief is about to be executed. The monk asks permission to prepare the thief for death. It turns out we are watching the filming of a movie, where Tomasz, a sixty-year-old doctor and atheist, takes care of the actors’ condition. Tomasz suspects he might be seriously ill. Unfortunately various test confirm his suspicions, he’s got cancer. He starts to ponder about the sense of life. As a rationalist and a cynic disappointed with life, he begins the metaphysical quest on his own. It is a balanced picture about accepting death. Krzysztof Zanussi: It is not a story about an attempt to escape death, it is rather a story of a man who wants to be ready for death and sees it sense in an inevitable, natural relation with life. The film was awarded, among others, the Main Prize at Moscow International Film Festival in 2000 and the Grand Prix the Gdynia film festival in 2001.

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