Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Jeweller's Shop

Movie Review
by Steven D. Greydanus
National Catholic Register
As a young man living under Nazi occupation in Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, co-founded an underground cultural resistance movement called the Rhapsodic Theatre. Wojtyla remained to some extent involved with the group for three decades, even as he went on to the priesthood and the episcopacy.

In 1960, then-Archbishop Wojtyla published two very different works on a topic close to the heart of his thought. The first was Love and Responsibility, his great treatise on love and personhood. The other was The Jeweler’s Shop, a three-act play published under a pseudonym in a Polish periodical.

Subtitled "A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama," the play’s "meditative" quality is evident in its unusual form. . . . Each of the three acts focuses of one of three couples. In Act One, "The Signals," we meet Teresa and Andrew, a young couple engaged to be married. Act Two, "The Bridegroom," depicts a marriage grown cold and loveless, that of Anna and Stefan. In Act Three, "The Children," the son of Teresa and Andrew, Christopher, falls in love with the daughter of Anna and Stefan, Monica.

Michael Anderson’s film, praised by John Paul II as "the best possible film based on my play," doesn’t try to capture or evoke the play’s unusual dramatic form. Instead, it extrapolates the events in the lives of these six characters into into a loosely structured drama spanning two decades and two continents. The story is propelled by ordinary (though sometimes philosophically elevated) dialogue, and a mysterious character in the play, Adam, becomes a simple priest — a rather Wojtyla-like priest, actually, who takes the young people of his parish on nature hikes in the mountains.

Not everything in the play has been reduced to mundane realism. In particular, the mysterious jeweler’s shop remains a place of mystery, seeming to exist on a boundary between time and eternity. (In fact, because of the way the film locates its events in Poland and Canada, the jeweler’s shop mysteriously follows the characters back and forth across the globe!) The jeweler himself (Burt Lancaster), who sells each of the couples their wedding rings, implies in his first lines that he isn’t what he appears; and when Anna one night tries to return her wedding ring, there are a couple of moments of magical realism highlighting the indissolubility of matrimony. . . .

The story doesn’t shy away from the obstacles and difficulties entailed by the commitment of matrimony: doubt, fear, insecurity, and ego are all explored. Monica, the daughter of Anna and Stefan, is scarred by her parents’ crumbled relationship ("Do all marriages turn out like yours?" she asks her father at one point). Christopher tries to assure her that their relationship will be different — but this only prompts her to wonder what her father said to her mother all those years ago to win her.

Christopher himself, meanwhile, faces self-doubt and uncertainty for other reasons: His father died before he was born, and he has no concrete idea of what a man should be. Yet his parents’ love, cut short though it was, had a permanence and fidelity that even now inspires him to pursue his beloved with hope, if not always with grace.

The Jeweller’s Shop faces the obstacles, but ultimately affirms that, in spite of all difficulties, love remains the vocation of the person and the hope of the future ("The future depends on love"). As translator Boleslaw Taborsky writes in the introduction to his translation of the play, "There are no easy solutions, there is no happy ending. But there is hope, if only we can reach out of ourselves, see the true face of the other person, and hear the signals of a Love that transcends us. To this state of mind and heart we are invited but not browbeaten." The film also invites us to this state of mind and heart.

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