Wowie, Bogowie!

Riveting, engaging (if a little corny) with a slightly abrupt ending but a treat none the less. If your cinema’s showing it, go see it.

I never miss a film at my cinema these days. Merely for the very fact (I have too much time on my hands) that the films I’ve never heard of are normally the ones that surprise me. Welcome. Or should I say, Powitanie Bogowie!

In a nutshell, Bogowie follows the early career of cardiac surgeon Zbigniew Religa. Despite the harsh reality of a 1980s Poland, he successfully leads a team of doctors to the country’s first human heart transplant.

I went in with no knowledge, no Polish and came out pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t believe the amount of showing times this film had at my local Cineworld but now I’ve seen it, I can see why.

It’s not without its imperfections but in the endless wave of “sludge” (lazy, poor movies with one dimensional characters and cardboard plots), it was good to see something stand out.

Tomasz Kot is brilliant as Religa. He plays the part to perfection with plenty of charisma. Exactly what you need in a leading character.

The opening sequence delivers a brief overview of the medical situation in the 80s Poland for those who didn’t live in the times (or were even born). We see a medical doctor shunned and persecuted for attempting to perform an organ transplant; only for the patient to die on the operating table. The procedure was prohibited and the doctor branded a murderer.

The first 30 minutes or so zipped along in an instant. Frantic, tense and heartbreaking (Pardon the expression) as Religa experiments with corpses in between treating living ones. His precision and dedication is something to be commended for. However, from his first operation in which he attempts to save a patient without his attending’s approval (or his attending), we quickly get a sense of the man and know what to expect for the next two hours.

Inevitably, his concern and ambition for medical progression instantly makes enemies in all the wrong places. Religa’s confrontations with the medical board are unbelievable. Unbelievable on the grounds for why he is forbidden. The moral and ethical debates surrounding the organ transplant procedure are dealt with brilliantly.

Religa is not always painted in the best light. You find his ambition comes off a little ruthless as he puts patients on the spot pressing for an answer. An answer to something that was forbidden and still very much in the experimental stages.

BUT at the same time, a procedure that could (and would prove to) extend the patient’s life and more importantly, give them one. Instead of being left to rot in a hospital wired up to machinery for an indefinite time.

His treatment of his wife was expected but also terrible. Neglecting her in a flat in the city. Rewarding her with trips away but calling on her when he needed her to confirm that what he is doing is right. There could have been more drama made of that but I felt that the role was restricted and put there to break up the hum drum of the hospital melodrama.

The tone seemed to be a little over the place. After a sombre and dramatic opening, it seems to get a little too light that it’s almost soapy like ER. When Religa hires and fires the same doctor who keep questioning his motives, it was funny to start with but it soon became a running joke that went on far too long. It felt like I was watching Dr Cox from Scrubs.

However, a chance encounter between Religa and a high ranking government official was macabre but unexpected. The fact he takes one look at the chap and says, “I’ll be seeing you soon” got an unexpected chuckle.

The actual medical operations are quite detailed. The make up and special effects are fantastic. Not for the squeamish. But once you’ve seen Religa take out heart after heart; bar the drama as he gets closer and closer to achieving what was deemed impossible, it all gets a little repetitive.

It was certainly interesting how Religa broke away from the hospital that trained him to make his own surgery. It was suspenseful and riveting as he tries desperately to secure funding. Telling little white lies to get the best people possible. This is perfectly demonstrated when his new medical team arrive to nothing but four walls and a roof with white marker highlighting where each room will be.

The pace does dip in places and at two hours, I did feel my eyes wander nearer the end as the repetition seemed to pop up in the story arch. Doc says no. Religa does it anyway. He fires disapproving team mate. Re-hires when he needs them to do the op.

It doesn’t help when you know the inevitable outcome. It was still an eye opener. Don’t get me wrong. But after all the build up, it just ends quite abruptly. Just that’s it. This crucial point did that and the rest is . . . History. Cue a quick caption summarising the rest of Religa’s life followed by the credits. Oh?

I mean we had endless ops in which Religa got closer to keeping a patient alive after the procedure. There was only ever going to be two outcomes. BUT it just fell a bit flat for me.

A charismatic lead, a riveting story certainly delivers enough drama to keep me engrossed. It may be a little repetitive and overlong. BUT I’ve seen a lot worse this week alone.

3/5 for me.



Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.

I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.

It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.

It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.

It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.

However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.

Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.

Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?

The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.

It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.

The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.

However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.

What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.

Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.