The Christening: Film Noir From Poland

Michal has a problem. His name is Janek. Janek has a problem. His name is Michal. The two friends, ex-hoodlums, meet after Janek’s stint in the army. In the interim, Michal (Wojciech Zielinski) was somehow released early from prison and now appears to be a proper Warsaw yuppie, with condo, career, clueless wife (Natalia Rybicka), infant son, and Volvo station wagon. This arouses both envy and suspicion in Janek (Tomasz Schuchardt, who has something of the young Ray Liotta’s soulful swagger). But since he’s crashing on Michal’s couch, he keeps his mouth shut until their old boss, the “Fat Man” (actually slim and bald), brands Michal a squealer. Director Marcin Wrona treats these familiar noir elements in a straightforward manner while also subtly reweighting the drama. Family man Michal should have our sympathies, but Janek faces the greater moral choice. Michal, we see in a prologue, once rescued him from drowning. Now his old pal is being extorted by the violent gang—paying thousands a day not to be killed. Which side is Janek on? The seven-day countdown to the infant’s baptism, with Janek to be godfather, gives The Christening a certain inevitability also infused with Polish Catholicism. Though the flawed Michal is no Christ figure, Janek’s ultimate decision whether to protect or betray his savior lifts the film above standard crime fare.