Washington Post review
by Desson Howe
It's going to be a tough sell to get people to see 1) a Polish film that 2) is about the methodical, psychological brutalization of a female prisoner and which 3) never lets up for two hours. But "Interrogation," which won the 1990 Cannes Best Actress prize for Krystyna Janda, is all of these things and more.
Set in Poland's totalitarian 1950s, which by enormous implication mirrors Jaruzelski's Poland of the 1980s, Ryszard Bugajski's film stays right under your skin. There's a knowing chilliness about the whole production. You know director Bugajski didn't make too much of this up; you know the performers didn't need too much instruction about Gestapo-state life. Janda plays a fun-loving cabaret performer who, after a show, is invited for a drink by ostensible admirers. After they get her completely bombed, the men (actually security police) spirit her away to jail. She awakens to find herself a political prisoner, faced with the allegorically named Citizen Major (Janusz Gajos), who asks her to "start at the beginning, like a confession."
Asked about her sexual history, and her personal connections with a certain Col. Olcha, a man suspected of espionage, Janda realizes she's a pawn in a greater "investigation." She also realizes her denials are falling on obstinately unbelieving ears. Starved, confined, under constant physical and psychological torture, with confessions constantly thrust under her nose, Janda undergoes an excruciating test of inner strength, but she never gives up her spirit.
This is a sensational performance by Janda, an increasingly riveting tour de force. The other actors, including Agnieszka Holland as a Communist-sympathizing prisoner, have similar effect. As the Major, Gajos is a collection of blue-suited, authoritarian gestures: the meticulous way he arranges his pencils, the disgust with which he wipes his hands after pulling Janda's hair violently, his intermixing of sweet tones and cruelty. As Janda's second interrogator, who becomes sympathetic to, then infatuated with her, Adam Ferency is memorably empathetic. "Interrogation," which Bugajski completed in 1982 (smack-dab in the middle of martial law), was banned immediately, but the director escaped to Canada with an illegal video copy and had it shown at various festivals. His efforts to have his work shown prove to be worth all the trouble. This may be harrowing subject matter, but it's vital viewing.
Time Out Film Guide
Bugajski's horrifying film was originally banned under martial law. When cabaret artiste Tonia (Janda) is imprisoned without explanation, she assumes there has been a bureaucratic slip-up. Gradually, however, it becomes clear she is there for a reason: betrayal. Days become months. The monotonous deprivation of the prison cell is varied only by the persuasion, intimidation and torture of interrogation, but Tonia will not break. If, in a sense, this is a period film twice over - made in '82, set in '51 - its impact is as current as it ever was, and its allegorical implications have proved prophetic: the trajectory is very much freedom through fortitude and perseverance. Drained of colour, largely without music, resolutely intimate, it makes for a harrowing couple of hours, but the shifting power-plays between Tonia and her inquisitors are subtly conveyed, while the nuances distinguishing subjective and objective guilt inevitably suggest Kafka and Orwell.
Channel 4 Film Guide
Singer Janda feels sure that there must have been some kind of mistake when she is arrested and interrogated. When her answers to the relentless questioning prove unsatisfactory, she is tortured, but she is determined not to give in to her tormentors. It is difficult to recommend a film as bleak as this, but as Janda's spirit refuses to break, The Interrogation becomes strangely life-affirming, owing to a powerful performance by Janda. Directed with great skill and compassion by Bugajski, who makes the best of his claustrophobic surroundings, the film was promptly banned by the Polish authorities.
"Interrogation is a thought-provoking film, and is essential viewing with a high historical importance. It takes sides with the individual's rights over those of an oppressive totalitarian state, and at times is surprisingly nuanced to show the shifting power-plays between Tonia and her interrogators”
-- Ozus' World Movie Review