A young man says to a girl, “I like you.”
“What am I to say to that?” she asks smiling
“Nothing.” He moves to kiss her and she dances away.
It is such a lighthearted scene full of chemistry, full of romantic possibility and suffused with beauty. It is this light touch that characterizes much of The Winner Poland’s second and final entry at the European Film Festival: the friendship between Oliver (the guy in the dialogue above) and an elderly man, Frank is a light depiction of male friendship; the romance with the beautiful bookie, of whom Frank says, “She’s weird- she reads books, listens to classical music,” is devoid of tension; the dialogue is light and crisp and much of the action takes place in well lit cafes and well illuminated racecourses.
The plot follows a brilliant pianist, Oliver, who having cancelled a tour contract after personal upheaval, befriends the elderly Frank, a gifted horse race gambler who amidst the joys and intrigues of horse race betting, tries to get Oliver to play again.
The Winner is light but there are serious questions at its heart. A judge tells Oliver, “All artistic competitions are fiction…how do you compare the incomparable? How do you measure the immeasurable?” Later this judge will offer Oliver number one on the list of greatest pianists in the world, when Oliver asks why, he replies, “Perhaps it’s a whim. Or maybe I just want to appall the world.”
The stance of the judge calls into question the value of prizes and contests in the arts since there is no rigid parameter by which any one painter, writer, poet, might be said to be heads and shoulders above the others. It is perhaps why director, Wieslaw Saniewski devotes more screen time to horse races where the competition is more direct and the results are less subjective. At various times in the world of arts, there are controversies over who wins what prize: Citizen Kane should have won Best Picture at the Oscars, Kanye West should have gotten a nomination in Best Album category at the Grammys, Arundhati Roy should not have won the Booker Prize. It goes on and on.
These ‘serious’ issues are placed on the background while more focus is put on the human relationships in keeping with the lighthearted approach. It just might be a loss for the ‘serious’ cinema lover. For all others, The Winner is a welcome distraction.