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'Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease'

'Disease' a powerful exploration of life, death, love

Thursday, March 15, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

It opens as a sumptuous period piece, when a 12th-century horse thief is caught in the act and dragged into town for hanging. At the last minute, a Cistercian monk -- gentle St. Bernard -- asks the villagers to wait until the priest can spiritually prepare the hysterical man for death.

'Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease'

Critic's Call:



It's a movie location, and there has been an off-camera accident among the extras. A physician is summoned to help. The doctor will soon be summoned to eternity and summoning for help himself.

Krzysztof Zanussi is a director -- and "Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" a film -- that do not waste time. Time is the commodity of which Dr. Tomasz Berg (Zbygniew Zapasiewicz) has precious little remaining. A lifetime of dealing with death has made it no easier for Dr. Berg to face his own.

Zanussi, the deeply philosophical maker of "Year of the Quiet Sun" (1984), does not concern himself with the small stuff -- least of all "entertainment" -- but with the eternal verities: life, death, love and the crisis of faith, galvanized around the issue of assisted (and, for that matter, unassisted) suicide.

"Disease" is powerfully written, directed and paced by Zanussi, gorgeously photographed by cinematographer Edward Klosinski, and -- most of all -- superbly acted by Zapasiewicz (who even looks like Dr. Kevorkian). In excellent support are Krystyna Janda as the doctor's ex-wife, Anna, and Pavel Okraska as the medical student who will inherit his legacy. Somber but not lugubrious, it is ultimately an amazing, redemptive experience with touches of rueful humor.

"Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" kicks off the "Through Polish Eyes" film festival opening tonight at the Carnegie Museum of Art theater.

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