Torrents of Spring (Skolimowski, 1989)

During this series I’ve often mentioned Jerzy Skolimowski’s daring pinball kinetics, those dynamic formalist skirmishes bouncing symbols off characters and locations with feverish intensity. But his Torrents of Spring is something else altogether. This beautifully composed period piece slowly constructs an emotional setting within a vibrant natural context, highlighting the seemingly measured life these characters lead. It’s weak at the knees for honor and regret, romance and tragedy, and Skolimowski allows the progression of human compassion and weakness to take center stage.  Epic scope has never been this quiet and reserved.

The opening shot of a lone horse-drawn carriage being taxied across a river immediately instills this feeling, calling to mind both wealth and isolation, two themes that will perplex each other over the course of the film. The coach belongs to a wealthy Russian named Dimitri (Timothy Hutton), a wrinkled and forlorn man who walks the empty streets of a German town with silent trepidation. At one point Dimitri looks into a mirror, his lifeless eyes placating the well of wrinkles on his forehead and cheek threatening to overwhelm the entire reflection. In a surprising fit of surrealism, Skolimowski tracks the camera left to right revealing Dimitri in a fanciful jester costume. Whatever has transpired, he has certainly been made the fool.

Torrents of Spring flowers into an instinctual memory/flashback, as a now youthful Dimitri meets a nice young shop owner (Valeria Golino) by chance on a stopover back to Russia. Their impending courtship is flushed with excitement, nerves, and finally a strikingly genuine marriage proposal. But Skolimowski has never been one to trust the institution of marriage, or relationships for that matter. And in a brilliant act of formal subversion, Skolimowski uses Dante Spinotti’s lush visuals to lull the young couple into thinking their love is timeless, as natural as the wind in the trees. Of course, it isn’t.

The theme of manipulation connects Torrents of Spring with Skolimowski’s other more diverse films, but here it’s so much more organic to the rhythm’s of society and class. Like the heroes of Deep End and The Shout, Dimitri gets mentally trumped by a superior adversary, a beautiful Russian princess named Maria (Nastassja Kinski). It’s a classic spider/fly scenario wrapped in a blindingly picturesque setting, perfect for masking true intentions with the glow of the sun and shade of the forest. Dimitri’s weakness is ultimately pathetic, but for most of Skolimowski’s film his character is complex enough to convincingly shift from honorable gentlemen to horny pet, then back again.

This isn’t Skolimowski’s only venture into the land of 19th century lavish gowns and high society. But as opposed to the unabashed comedic buffoonery of The Adventures of Gerard, Torrents of Spring lives in haunting shades of color and texture, both of the physical and emotional kind. The cobblestone roads, the period architecture, hell even the droplets of water falling from the trees, all seep with personal heartache. And instead of crashing aesthetics together, Skolimowski seems intent to let the images and symbols speak for themselves.

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