The Winner (Wygrany) Made in: Poland, USA (location) Language: Polish, English Director: Wieslaw Saniewski Starring: Pawel Szajda, Janusz Gajos, Grazyna Barszczewska, Wojciech Pszoniak, Marta Zmuda Year: 2011
Synopsis: Oliver Linovsky (Pawel Szajda) is a young, world famous pianist. Although born in Poland, he was raised in the US and lives in Chicago.
Touted amongst critics as possibly the greatest pianist in the world, Oliver is troubled. His overbearing mother (Grazyna Barszczewska), was once a great musician and appears to be pressuring him to live out her ambitions. And on the eve of a highly anticipated performance in Poland, Oliver's wife suddenly leaves him.
After arriving in Poland, Oliver reluctantly prepares for the concert in which he is the star. But after taking a seat at the piano bench on the big night, he abruptly gets up and leaves. This causes an outrage, and Oliver finds himself owing about a quarter million Euros to the stunned event organizers.
By chance he meets Frank Goretzky (Janusz Gajos), a retired math teacher and former US World War II veteran. Full of life experience and wisdom, Frank's passion is horse racing. Frank and Oliver develop an unlikely friendship, and the pianist learns to live life for himself.
The Good: The Winner has a pretty strong start, and appears to set up a very interesting story. Carlos Libedinsky's tango songs from the Narcotango albums sound great, and he's an interesting choice for the music composer.
The shots of Poland and other areas of Europe are nice, and the supporting cast is very good as well.
The Bad: Unfortunately, The Winner is terribly unfocused. Thematically, there's too much thrown at the audience and none of the story elements are sufficiently explained. For instance, Oliver Linovsky obviously had an uneasy relationship with his mother, but that's not really explored.
His father instilled in him a love of tango music (which his mother disapproved of), which is supposed to have some sort of effect on Oliver. Only we never find out what it is.
In fact, it's not even mentioned again for the rest of the story.
On the one hand, it seems as though Oliver wants to quit the piano altogether. Yet, he still plays once in a while. And when he's finished playing, he seems to hate it again and refuses to discuss his feelings as to why.
And Pawel Szajda doesn't really shine in the role of Oliver. Emotionally, his acting in this film is unconvincing and stilted. Plus, his character isn't very likeable. The disorganization of the story's events and awkward editing make him seem bipolar or whiny in an Anakin Skywalker sort of way.
Janusz Gajos as Frank Goretzy does better as far as acting is concerned, and his role as the generous wise man is clear. But there's nothing all that original about him that we haven't already seen in other onscreen mentors. Plus, all of his important attributes are explicitly explained, and not shown.
Who would like this film: The Winner was meant to be a heartfelt, meaning-of-life tale with a happy ending. To the credit of director Wieslaw Saniewski, the elements for an effective story were all there.
Unfortunately, all the important plot points, lines of dialogue, and character revelations simply do not come together. And what we're left with is an overlong movie that's confusing and pretentious.