FORGOTTEN LOVE. Netflix’s decent remake of a timeless classic
Revisiting classics like The Quack (originally Polish Znachor means a folk healer) has always been associated with quite a stir and commotion. Contrary to appearances, this is not a rule that applies only to any domestic field. In almost every corner of the cinematic world, revisiting a sacred work – and the 1981 film fits this description (at least in Poland) – usually results in a simultaneous ringing of alarm bells, outrage, curiosity, and the stirring of fans’ emotions. However, apart from the heated debate surrounding The Green Border I haven’t seen the internet so profoundly moved and agitated as when the first photos from Netflix’s new Znachor (Forgotten Love for English speaking readers) appeared online. This illustrates the extent of nostalgia and sentiment that are connected with Jerzy Hoffman’s film. It’s an incredibly interesting phenomenon, especially on a pop culture level, which lives very intensely not only in the consciousness of the generation from the communist times but also, surprisingly, in the awareness of my peers and younger internet users. Memes with Jason Statham or Piotr Fronczewski saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Your Honor, this is Professor Rafał Wilczur,” still guarantee high engagement around November 1st and Easter. These dates – much like Home Alone during Christmas – have become symbolic days for watching Znachor (The Quack) in Polish households.
This shows the scale of the challenge that the creators faced. After Netflix’s adaptation of Mr. Car and the Knights Templar which is simply a bad movie on many levels, I had significant concerns about Forgotten Love. Especially since, similar to the adaptation of Nienacki’s prose, this version was announced as being far from the Dolega-Mostowicz book and Hoffmann’s film. Therefore, I can say with calmness (but also apprehension) that Netflix truly managed not to ruin this story. In fact, despite some significant plot changes, it holds together, maintains the atmosphere known from the original, and has an emotional core. There are plenty of differences in the details, some better and some worse. Especially in the finale, there are a few plot problems. Nevertheless, the overall experience provides a considerable amount of emotion and stands up as a reinterpretation of the story itself. Did it surpass the 1980s version? Not entirely. However, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Michal Gazda’s film isn’t perfect – there are a few plot changes that didn’t work in its favor, and casting-wise, despite an overall good level, it’s sometimes hit or miss. Are these departures from the source material forced upon the previous version and the book? I can reassure you, they are not. The film respects the original atmosphere, and the changes are more evidence that they tried to approach the well-known story creatively and innovatively on the script level. What are these changes? Here and there, the chronology was altered, some events have a different source, as do the roles of individual characters. There are also new characters, and some are missing. It’s hard not to compare Netflix’s Forgotten Love to Hoffmann’s film, and especially at this level, it’s challenging for some characters to measure up to the masters. However, I will defend this production on one crucial front – it attempts to give this story a new quality. It’s not a lazy, replicative copy, especially in terms of reinterpretation and character development. It may be controversial, but I believe many of these characters gained something in this version, while others lost. Balance in nature is preserved. One cannot deny the courage of the creators because some solutions will immediately meet with the outrage of fans, while others will be appreciated even by the most discerning purists and classic enthusiasts.
What’s most surprising, however, is that despite several changes in the way the story unfolds, in the overall calculation, in Forgotten Love they managed to maintain this story and replicate the emotions felt in Hoffmann’s version. It is still an almost classic melodrama that, in terms of discovering the mystery, could no longer surprise us, so the emphasis was placed on other elements. Thus, tonal accents and the chronology of events were changed. Someone else is morally responsible for Wilczur’s tragedy here. Thanks to this, the latest adaptation of Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz’s prose, in addition to what we already know, provides entirely new emotions. It also has a substantial dose of humor in the finale, but I’m not sure if it fits into the whole because the final part is the weakest element of the whole and comes across as somewhat contrived and clichéd.
The greatest praise should go to the creators of Forgotten Love for the way they approached the characters. It’s evident that they had ideas for them at the organic level, even in the script itself. Particularly significant kudos should be given for giving character and zest to the role of Marysia, who became a fully fleshed-out girl with temperament and courage, rather than a meek, quiet shop assistant. The young Wilczur has her goals, honor, fights for the good of the townsfolk, and refuses to accept the social order where the aristocrats exploit the poor. Now, my personal quirk – despite the intriguing direction the creators took, it’s hard to ignore that at times, this character becomes overwhelming, and her presence in almost every significant scene feels somewhat forced. In my opinion, Maria Kowalska, portraying her, also struggles to surpass the hypnotic Anna Dymna, whose radiance and innocence were one of the most vivid elements of the previous adaptation. This is simply a completely different character, and if approached in this way, she defends herself quite well. On the other hand, Ignacy Liss as the young Count Leszek Czynski falls quite flat. This character receives the fewest changes compared to the original, and the actor finds it challenging to match the extremely charismatic and dignified performance of Tomasz Stockinger. What bothered me was the lack of visual grandeur that seemed almost obligatory. Forgotten Love in this regard appears to me to be a classically television production, safe and sound. There’s no dirt, no sense of the countryside, no aristocratic perfume. It’s just solid – no shots dazzle with some cinematographic madness, no breathtaking visuals. Yet, there is room for it, as the whole movie lasts for almost two and a half hours. The same goes for the music, which in Hoffmann’s film was catchy and almost legendary over the years. Here, I can’t even recall the main musical theme two days after watching the film. The rest? Surprisingly decent.
Leszek Lichota as Rafal Wilczur / Antoni Kosiba performs really well. However, his role is somewhat limited because he often has to take a back seat due to the young Marysia, who at times becomes the central character and a constant element of the most important plotline. Lichota possesses all the necessary tools for portraying a doctor-wanderer suffering from amnesia – inner melancholy, depth, and confusion. This is what the role of Forgotten Love required, and his talent and acting charisma are undeniable. The character of Professor Wilczur has also been interestingly developed, with his concern for the poor and his attitude towards the practices of a folk healer. This adds depth to the story. The biggest applause should go to the supporting characters. I was most impressed by three acting performances – Anna Szymanczyk as Zoska, Mikolaj Grabowski as the elderly Count Czynski, and Izabela Kuna as the Countess. Each of them plays a crucial role in the story, and the changes in the characterizations of the two slippery aristocrats work in their favor. They are stereotypical figures, but they have been consistently deepened, and in this version, they have become more human than before. Iza Kuna shines particularly, creating a role that is the complete opposite of her character in The Inlaws yet just as unsympathetic and despicable. It’s a shame she didn’t get more screen time. Zoska, on the other hand, is a completely new character who captivates with her sincerity, homeliness, character, and naturalness. Interestingly, she becomes the driving force behind many of Antoni’s actions. What actions? You’ll have to find out for yourselves. Many people will also be curious to know if Artur Barcis’ return will have any greater significance beyond the fact that he also appeared in Hoffman’s film. Unfortunately, the creators didn’t explore any clever analogies here, as was the case with Franco Nero in Tarantino’s Django. It’s a missed opportunity. There was certainly room for it.
Forgotten Love remains, of course, a story laden with debt, unable to free itself from the burden of nostalgic return and facing the original. That’s why the creators chose the only possible and correct approach to retelling this story – they decided to recreate it in their own way, while respecting its significance and preserving its emotional character. They succeed in this regard. No one would want to watch the same thing, only without their beloved actors. That would be a recipe for artistic failure. Therefore, this story is explored with curiosity, differences are sought, and it is evaluated without great indignation because they were made boldly but with respect for the original. Unfortunately, not all solutions are on the plus side, and the final act in terms of execution came out somewhat clumsily. However, in the overall assessment, Michał Gazda has given us a production that to some extent meets expectations and provides the emotions that viewers will be looking for. And that is already a significant, positive surprise. Netflix’s Forgotten Love, despite the changes, still remains a story that touches the heart. Will it become an alternative to the classic? It’s hard to say. Who knows, maybe a new tradition will emerge where, during All Saints’ Day, people will watch… both versions?