A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Plagues of Breslau, in Polish with English subtitles, is a graphically violent police procedural in which a detective, mourning the loss of her fiancé, searches for a murderer who is bizarrely torturing and assassinating seemingly random Polish citizens in spectacularly public ways. Several nude, tortured, and severed bodies are shown. A man who has been torn apart lies in the morgue with his genitals on display. One live victim is sewn inside a cowhide, which shrank sufficiently to crush him. Another is torn apart by two frightened racehorses galloping off in different directions. City crowds are trampled by the manic horses. A police officer is kicked in the head and put into a coma by one horse, his brain turned "to mush," according to the doctor. A man's limbs are sledge-hammered to pieces that will fit on what looks like a wagon wheel. The gruesomeness continues with graphic autopsies and scenes of the killer branding a live victim, sledgehammering another to break his bones, and rolling another in a steel drum down a busy hill full of pedestrians. A tortured woman is burned before a live opera audience. Someone recalls that a perp sent a man's genitals in a jar to the victim's wife. A poor woman reports that a sadist tried to sell her kids to pedophiles. A head is chopped off by a guillotine, the aftermath featuring lots of blood. Adults drink alcohol, and language includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," "ass," "bastard," and "bitch."
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What's the story?
The PLAGUES OF BRESLAU is a grim drama about a depressive Polish detective named Helena (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) who catches a ghoulish murder case in which tortured bodies turn up every day at 6 p.m., leading to a week of citywide mayhem. Another cop, a profiler called Iwana (Daria Widawska), recognizes the historic underpinnings. The deaths mimic a 1740s plan to clear a Polish city of "degeneracy, pillaging, bribery, slander, oppression, and deviousness," crimes punished then by public executions at 6 p.m. (This is fictional -- no such historical killings took place.) The first victim is found sewn inside a fresh cowhide at a market. The contents: a man crushed to death as the hide shrank in the sun. On his belly the word "degenerate" is branded, no doubt a torture committed while he was still alive. More deaths follow every day at 6 p.m. and it soon becomes clear that the killer is on a revenge spree. Can the serial killer be stopped?
Is it any good?
The first 30 minutes of this film are riveting and establish intriguing characters along with the carnival of mayhem, death, and gruesome doings requiring investigation. The Plagues of Breslau reads as a kind of campy version of The Da Vinci Code, with horrific murders echoing through the plot as in the earlier film, but viewed through the lens of a depressive, cynical, and sarcastic cop, which makes for a fascinating set-up. Helena clearly has her own disturbing problems, but the nature of those problems remains unclear until a talky explanation offers some insight, but even then, the chronology of events described seems flawed and confusing. Helena's personal turmoil may give her insights into the killer that less troubled cops miss.
The real dilemma posed by this daring movie comes as lose ends that desperately require clarification are explained at length. Characters launch into long monologues to clear up the murk, which brings the otherwise break-neck action temporarily to a halt. Even then, with all the political/social ramifications laid out, the plot doesn't quite add up. Let's just say that the ultimate fate of a headless body remains very much an unexplained mystery. Other problematic issues shall remain nameless here to avoid giving away major plot points.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how police follow clues to solve crimes. Does The Plagues of Breslau help make sense of the killer's motives?
How does this compare with other movies about detectives finding killers? Do you think the blood and clear pictures of tortured bodies make this seem more realistic or more wildly imaginary and theatrical?
What political and social issues are raised here? Do they make sense in the context?
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