The Beautiful Stranger, or How Zabolovska Made the Russian Prime Minister Fall in Love with Her

The Beautiful Stranger is one of the most intimate productions in Jerzy Hoffmann’s oeuvre, dominated by great film epics. It is based on a short story by Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy.

Its events take place in 1916, during World War I. During a banquet in St. Petersburg, the young Russian lieutenant Obozov got into an argument with Rasputin, defending one of the ladies. The young officer’s courage wins him the sympathy of the colonel, who does not hide his hatred for the Tsar’s favorite. As a reward, the lieutenant is sent on a secret mission to Stockholm, where he must transfer secret documents. While traveling by train, 23-year-old Obuzo meets and falls in love with a beautiful older woman. Little does he know that the beautiful stranger is a spy who wants to obtain secret documents.

Wojciech Malajkat played Obozov, and on screen – in the lead role – he was partnered with Grażyna Szapołowska, an actress who was one of the biggest stars of Polish cinema at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. The artist delighted with her talent and beauty, and because she was not ashamed to play without clothes, she was called an example of femininity and a sex symbol. Her “nude” scenes from the films “Wielki Szu”, “Twenties… The Thirties”, “No End” and “The Magnat” entered the history of our cinema.

Interestingly, Grażyna Szapołowska was very popular not only in Poland. She was famous throughout Eastern Europe, and in Russia she was treated like a goddess! Her great admirer was, among others, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom, who in 1992 became… Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Viktor Chernomyrdin was so fascinated by the Vistula star that when he found out that Jerzy Hoffmann was filming the film “Beautiful Stranger” with her in St. Petersburg, he decided to meet her in person.

– Every evening, at my door in the Pribaltikaja Hotel, there was a bouquet of roses from him and a gypsy orchestra playing Russian romances. All this makes me go downstairs – said the actress in an interview with Kristina Petlakovska from “Viva!”.

Grażyna Szapołowska sent the Russian Prime Minister away empty-handed for a few days… She worked hard on the set of ‘Beautiful Stranger’ and when she returned to the hotel after shooting, all she could think about was getting a good night’s sleep. Eventually, I gave in and agreed to talk for a while. She was transferred to Chernomyrdin. She stood in front of one of the most powerful politicians in the world at the time, looked him in the eye, took him under the chin and called him a “slut.”

– I asked: “Dziubash, why do I need this orchestra?” – he remembers.

The Russian Prime Minister was apparently so mesmerized by her that he was speechless. He was even more impressed by his idol’s admission that his power and wealth meant nothing to her. Viktor Chernomyrdin – accustomed to fulfilling all his whims instantly – this time he had to do it with enthusiasm… He quickly forgot about the fact that the Polish actress rejected him, fortunately for her.

Years later, Grazyna Zabolovska joked that if she wanted, she could become Russia’s first lady (in 1996, Chernomyrdin served as president of Russia for two days, replacing an ailing Boris Yeltsin).

– For me, a conversation with a man playing the saxophone in the street is more attractive than the Russian Prime Minister throwing flowers at me. In an interview, speaking about her meeting with Chernomyrdin, she said that luxury is not only about wealth and power.

Viktor Chernomyrdin was appointed Vice President of the Russian Federation in 1993, and everything indicates that he will one day take over the position previously held by Boris Yeltsin. However, this position was taken from him by Vladimir Putin, who, after being appointed president, sent Chernomyrdin to Kiev as Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine. The former admirer of Szapołowska died in Moscow at the end of November 2010.

Grażyna Szapołowska, shortly after rejecting the advances of the Russian Prime Minister, married diplomat Paweł Potoroczyn, with whom – when he became Polish consul in Los Angeles in 1995 – she went to the world capital of film, where she spent several months. The actress never met Chernomyrdin again.

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