Polish heavyweight director Andrzej Wajda helms this unusual, way-offbeat project, whose complicated backstory explains the complex structure on hand.
Ostensibly the tale of a middle-aged woman who grows obsessed with a much younger man in the years following World War II, while facing her own impending death at the same time, the film reached mid-production when lead actress Krystyna Janda lost her beloved husband to a terminal illness and began to work through the grief.
Hit by creative inspiration, Wajda decided to modify the film by superimposing Janda's reading of a deeply intimate, confessional monologue onto the filmed material, thus commenting pointedly on the original work. The tale opens in a contemporary hotel room, shot with large, flat patches of light and shadow stylistically recalling Edward Hopper.
Janda stands in the room, and as she walks around, speaks openly and passionately of cinematographer husband Edward Klosinski -- his diagnosis, his physiological decline, and ultimately his death. The narrative then cuts to the period section, with uncanny parallels to Janda's off-set experiences.
Here, the actress stars as Marta, a European woman semi-happily married to a local physician (Jan Englert). He learns that she has contracted lung cancer, but deliberately resists informing her of her dire impending fate -- because she's already emotionally fragile given the death of their young sons during the war.
Then, one day, Marta is walking with a friend when she catches a glimpse of a handsome, strapping 20-year-old man named Boguslaw (Pawel Szajda) and feels instantly drawn to his youth and sexuality. She then beckons him into a mentor-protégé relationship, which inevitably leads to an affair.
Marta expresses her desire to collect rushes for the upcoming Pentecost feast, an event designed to celebrate life, and the passage of spring into summer -- but she doesn't realize that the freshness of life that beckoned her when she first spotted Boguslaw will ultimately be her undoing.