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Fever: The Tale of a Bomb
Revolutionary Ideology and Moral Behavior in Conflict
- A 1980 film by Agnieszka Holland

by Peter K. Gessner

Spring 1905 (1907) by Stanisaław Masłowski

The year is 1905. It is a time of revolutionary fever, independence struggle, anarchism and political terrorism. Józef Piłsudski's Fighting Organization of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) wages an armed struggle against the Czarist police, protects workers' demonstrations and stages bomb attacks on Russian dignitaries.

The fate of the heroes is presented through the history of a bomb which was to destroy the enemy but which actually brought death and misery to the plotters.

Angieszka Holland has done away with the mask of pathos and heroism of the revolutionary action. Her characters are people with many weaknesses who use bravado and determination to conceal their uncertainty and inconsistence. The title fever reflects their frame of mind and spirit which actually excludes rational thinking. Their action is futile, the bomb they are to throw will not explode and every successive victim is merely another unnecessary sacrifice made on the altar of history

"A film regarding which it is not possible to remain indifferent," that how one of the critics summed what Agnieszka Holland produced. It was an opinion echoed by others who added that Fever was her most mature work. These opinions were not undermined by the later international successes of her films Europa, Europa and A Secret Garden. Fever was a screen adaptation of The Tale of a Bomb a story by Andrzej Struga, who wrote it right after the failure of the 1905 Revolution, a revolution in which - as an activist of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) - he was heavily involved. His tale was that of the preparations for an assassination attempt on a Russian General, and the bomb was a storytelling device that allowed portrayals of the fates of a series of people connected with the PPS's Fighting Organization. Produced in a secret chemical factory, the bomb, instead of annihilating the enemy, brought death or misfortune to its sequential possessors. Angieszka Holland's film is faithful to the spirit of original tale. Using historical costumes and showing the tragic fates of the revolutionaries, the director powerfully portrays the conflict between the demands created by ideas and those made by ethical considerations. It presents beautifully an individualized gallery of people engaged in a political struggle, where courage gets mixed in with opportunism, and enthusiasm with calculations.

Excellent roles were created in the film: Ogier Łukaszewicz as a revolutionary group leader, "cold and unfeeling, sending people to the hereafter calmly and pedantically;" Barbara Grabowska in the role of Kama - murderer manche who brakes down under the psychological pressure of what was expected of her (she won a Golden Bear in the category of Best Actress at the 1981 West Berlin Film Festival); Adam Ferency as, Kiełza, a well intentioned but naive member of the working class; and Bogusław Linda in the terrifying Gryziak. The complicated relationships portrayed in Fever between ideology, politics, and morality gained in significance shortly after the completion of the film. The famous "Polish August" of 1980, which led to birth of Solidarity, caused Holland's film to be interpreted not only in the context of universal values, but also in the context of ongoing socio-political developments. Kama, Kiełza, Leon and Gryziak ceased to be exclusively fictional screen protagonist, finding their equivalents in contemporary life.

In 1984, Holland showed the film in Chicago and commented that the similarity the films subject matter and the Solidarity movement, which at that time was banned by Poland's communist authorities, rendered her film unwelcome in Poland.

As specified by the PPS's Fighting Organization, the bomb is fabricated with a special fuse. It is fetched by Kama who, together with Leon - a revolutionary freed by an armed action while being transported - organizes an attempt to assassinate the Russian Governor General. Kama would have to perish in the attempt, but the Governor General does not appear at the expected location. Kama cannot stand up to the stress, has a breakdown and lands in a hospital for the insane. The bomb is hidden together with a sum of money in a village. Its 1905. The situation changes. Wojtek Kiełza, who has been storing the bomb, brings it to Warsaw. He is unable to tell, however, who is part of the revolutionary conspiracy and who is a double agent. He gets arrested and is sentenced to die. In prison, he tells the anarchist Gryziak, who is being freed, where the bomb is hidden. Grayziak succeeds in throwing it into a room full of officers of the Russian Secret Police, but the bomb fails to explode. The anarchist is unmasked. Russian military engineers explode the bomb by throwing it into the Vistula River.

Fever Links 

Holland Links 

Several paragraphs above are a translation by Peter K. Gessner of Polish language material about the film posted by FilmPolski


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