Kajtek Czarodziej (2023) – Movie Review
In interviews, Magdalena Lazarkiewicz admitted that the production of the film “Kajtek the Wizard” had been planned for 30 years. The director once promised her children that she would turn Janusz Korczak’s novel into a film. The contemporary premiere is therefore essentially an intergenerational project: it will be watched by the younger ones, but son Anthony himself (with his wife Marie Comasa) helped realize the old dream by creating cinematic music. For decades, the implementation of the project was delayed due to the lack of technology available for Polish budgets: the supernatural world of “Kajtek” would not have been possible to create without the use of computer animation. Today, the fantastical magic can finally appear on screen. Although it may be cheaply prosthetic, the performance is a creative way to circumvent the limitations, and the shortcomings are hidden by the editing – so the viewer won’t suffer. Building relationships on screen is still more important than magical performances, without which the story would remain floundering and its message a spell cast in the void.

After all, the nearly 90-year-old novel is decorated with trinkets that younger viewers will be able to read in fairy-tale terms. The original fate of little Antic (who acquired the nickname “Kajtuś” at one of Warsaw’s gates, during a cigarette break) has remained a fairy tale in its astonishing expression. After all, time flows differently for a child, and “someday” or “yesterday” means the same thing to him as “a long time ago.”

We catch the film’s hero in the first mischief of a rebellious teenager. Kajtek is not impressive in court, but she has to defend herself against harassment: the world is not ready for wizards, especially true wizards. Suddenly, his past, future and present resonate with terrifying force. The number of known answers is outnumbered by the number of questions: about the deceased mother (Eva Sakalova), about the anxious and strict father (Grzegorz Damici), the caring grandmother (Maja Komorowska), and finally – about his extraordinary talent. Discovering his powers, the young hero attracts more and more attention to himself. He competes with the true Darkness, but instead of a duel of power, family secrets will be the bargaining chip.

Lazarkiewicz, in a duet with co-screenwriter Katarzyna Terechowicz, does not abandon the unique Polish context. Although it will remain only readable for an older audience, it is clear that a child’s identity is being formed against the backdrop of a society full of different groups of strangers. Kajtek meets a troupe of circus performers, a mysterious antique shop owner (Piotr Głowacki) and a boy hiding from the sun (Krzysztof Zarzycki). He sees that he can turn his talent into something good and help the weakest – despite the prejudices of his friends or teachers at school. This is where the story of oppressive reality finds its course. The director of “Last Call” and “At World’s End” draws familiar motifs from history. Lazarkiewicz shows that the pursuit of freedom in a totalitarian state, a failed marriage, or an encounter with a magician remains the need of youth. Kajtosia’s struggle between good and evil adds an additional obvious metaphor. Because there is no acceptance of a world that does not respect others.

The theme of the idealistic young man’s rebellion promises a dizzying pace to the plot. However, the boy’s crusade against prohibitions and empty places on the map loses its dynamics, and the constant escape from problems reflects the framework of the story. Kajtek is supposed to be fighting for himself, getting into trouble – but only in the form of one-scene gags and stunts. This combined with a wide range of difficult emotions creates dissonance. The action, played only in the highest registers, quickly becomes saturated and dangerously boring. The supporting characters look similar. The colorful collar enriches the present world and, unfortunately, is quickly fading. The dual characters pale in comparison to the complex portrait of the titular wizard. Eryk Biedunkiewicz, making his big screen debut, effortlessly transforms into a superhero who must use his powers responsibly, a lost orphan or an adventurer and fun-seeker without consequences. But the many topics only complicate the clear message. Because despite its cohesive and timeless lines, “Kajtka Czarodzieja” ends with a cliché straight out of a long-form classic novel, not a modern film about growing up. Thus the magical force that should keep you glued to the screen slowly disappears from view.

It’s no coincidence that the MacGuffin of the film’s opening turns out to be a miracle projector that brings old photos back to life thanks to the power of love. Working on a prototype from a different era rewrote the story, and despite being decades old, the 3D still displays a modern message. Łazarkiewicz evokes very complex emotions that get lost among logical shortcuts and fast pace. However, you can feel that the reality on screen offers more than just a pretty picture. Young audiences will be able to learn at least some sympathetic life lessons about sacrifice and friendship. Among other things, problems are solved with the participation of both mind and heart. Unfortunately for the film, you also have to listen to advice when evaluating the show.

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