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Friday, October 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
Camel is at heart of sweet, poetic fable

By Ted Fry
Special to The Seattle Times

A camel abandoned by a circus changes the lives of a Polish couple played by Anna Dymna and Jerzy Stuhr in "The Big Animal."
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It's a big year for camels in the movies. This year's poignant Seattle International Film Festival entrant "The Story of the Weeping Camel" — which later became a minor art-house hit — made an impact for its soulful portrayal of complex beasts with inner lives. Not to mention the lives of the people around them.

"The Big Animal" presents another take on the distinctively complex character of a peculiar creature who mysteriously enters a set of lives with considerable existential and emotional effect.

This small, gorgeous Polish production came from a script written in the '70s by the late auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski and was dusted off by one of his protégés, director Jerzy Stuhr, in 2000. Stuhr also stars as the hapless hero, Zygmunt, who inherits the sensitive title character after a circus leaves it behind in his small village.

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***
"The Big Animal," with Jerzy Stuhr, Anna Dymna. Directed by Stuhr, from a screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski, based on a novel by Kazimierz Orlos. 72 minutes. Not rated, suitable for general audiences. In Polish with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

The camel adopts Zygmunt and his wife — who are at first baffled by its presence but gradually come to adore the companionship it provides. Especially charming are scenes of them sharing their lonely suppers while the animal keeps them company, dining with them from just outside an open window.

The animal brings unexpected joy to Zygmunt, and he takes it for long walks in the countryside. Meanwhile, the townsfolk are simply bewildered by its presence. At first they find it a novelty but become more indignant at the weird disruption it brings to village life. The community council demands a tax (designating it as a horse), and people increasingly shun Zygmunt and his wife as their devotion to the unnamed creature takes on more significant implications than they care to understand.

The film is delightfully poetic for all of its ironic and allegorical subtleties. It's subdued black-and-white images (shot by Pawel Edelman, who earned an Oscar nomination for Roman Polanski's "The Pianist") lend a buoyantly expressionistic patina that perfectly suits the balance between the fablelike tone and its drab reality.

The fate of the animal should remain a mystery, but the sweet ending is satisfying and touching enough to bring a smile even to the funny, expressive lips of a camel.

Ted Fry: tedfry@earthlink.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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