“I predict a great disaster for Russia.”
Set in 1917, right before the Russian Revolution begins, the Polish film, Beautiful Stranger is based on the novel by Aleksei Tolstoi. Twenty-three-year-old Lt. Nikita Obozov (Wojciech Malajkat) is on furlough from the front, and he’s enjoying a last evening with friends in a restaurant when Rasputin arrives. Rasputin, at first brings life to the sedate atmosphere of the eatery–demanding champagne for the gypsy band, and dancing in between the tables. But when Rasputin goes too far, Obozov steps in to protect the honour of a lady. With this act, noted by a quiet officer sitting nearby, Obozov marks himself as both reckless and a romantic.
The next day Obozov is ordered to deliver secret documents to Stockholm via an overland train journey. He’s been selected for this mission thanks to his behaviour in the restaurant. To Obozov, the mission represents an escape from his normally arduous army life at the front, but within a few hours, a beautiful, seductive older woman (Grazyna Szapolowska) who’s also on the train in the compartment next door teases Obozov–causing him to forget–temporarily at least–the hidden secret documents.
This Polish film has an inherent romance that is absent from the more cynical worldview of Russian film, so in a sense, the film set in Russia and about Russians is an anomaly. Beautiful Stranger tracks the relationship that grows between the naive Lt. Obozov and the gorgeous woman, as they travel on the train from Russia to Stockholm. Train journeys are the most romantic form of travel, and the film capitalizes on this aspect of the setting. Obozov’s head spins at the possibility of a romantic liaison on the speeding train, and he also dreams when he sleeps–and in his dreams, he replays a recurring event that took place in a frozen field at the front. This recurring scene–a nightmare he’s tucked away–returns at the very end of the film to provide a perfect, poignant ending.
The sense of romance in the film is high, but there’s really very little plot here. The acting, a little stilted at times, is hampered by the fact that the dialogue is just a few seconds behind lip movement. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, Beautiful Stranger is in Polish with English subtitles.