“Autumn Girl” is the “Mrs. Maisel stumbles into ‘All About Eve'” Polish musical biography you didn’t know you needed until it showed up in your Netflix queue.
A few songs, a few laughs, a little sex, a lot of sexism — it’s one of those frothy “It shouldn’t work but it does” pictures, largely thanks to the charm, sass and sex appeal of its star, Maria Debska.
Debska plays Kalina Jedrusik, the real-life “Autumn Girl” of Polish pop and Polish TV in the early ’60s. Writer-director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz parks Debska, as Jedrusik, in a shiny, candy-colored fantasy version of Iron Curtain Poland and lets her sing, dance and strut like the queen bee this 1960s diva was.
Somebody labeled Jedrusik “the Polish Marilyn Monroe,” and when we meet her, she’s kind of let that go to her head. Sure, she’s living in socialist apartment flats and shopping at department stores where cloth is the hot seller (not finished fashions), just like everybody else.
But she’s a star! She’s on TV! Kalina’s not putting her Skoda in “drive “until she’s got her lipstick just right, traffic light be damned. And she’s sure as shooting not waiting in line like everybody else if she has any say in the matter.
Kalina has a writer-husband (Leszek Lichota) and a young, handsome lover (Bartlomiej Kotschedoff) living with her under the same roof. She wears her dresses tight and low-cut, smokes like a chimney and her cute bob haircut is the style to steal. All the ladies say so, well, except for the ones who want everybody to wait their turn.
But there’s this new Party Member/boss at the TV station. Ryszard (Bartlomiej Kotschedoff) used to do Polish summer stock with Kalina, back in the day. And she doesn’t remember him. When he comes on strong, asking/ordering her to dinner with “the new boss,” she rebuffs him and not nearly as gently as she might have.
Next thing she knows, her “lateness” is an issue, “the people” are outraged at her sexiness, and she’s out of a gig. Kalina and we are about to remember that “cancel culture” was invented the moment the phrase “black ball” was coined. She is persona non grata every place she might sing and perform. She turns to vodka and bitterness, shaken, not stirred.
The great novelty of this film, in Polish with subtitles or dubbed into English, is how Kalina sees her life coming apart in production numbers — a restaurant where everybody dances around her, their smile-free faces mimicking the tight-lipped fury she herself sings (in Polish) through.
She laments her plight, cautions her unhearing, would-be womanizer boss and equally faithless husband (An open marriage?) to “Let go of the lust,” and longs for the day when can sing and own her “sexiness” on TV again.
The film, titled “Bo we mnie jest seks” in Polish, follows a predictable story arc. Sadly, some of benchmark “Big” moments we know are coming are production-designed and production-numbered right out of their potential impact. Supporting players’ storylines are underdeveloped, and the cabaret-ready tunes aren’t going to keep any Broadway composer up at night, even the ones who speak Polish.
It’s never quite as playful as that opening title, “This may or may not have really happened.”
But Debska is a delight in this part, blowsy and brassy, cute and careerist, a comrade in her element, thriving under socialism because the Party let her be a star. She lets us see the light go out in her life when the spotlight is yanked away, and lets us hope she’ll have a comeback number, with just the right slinky dress and choreography to match.
Rating: TV-MA, nudity, smoking, drinking and profanity
Cast: Maria Debska, Leszek Lichota, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, Krzysztof Zalewski and Katarzyna Obidzinska
Credits: Scripted and directed by Katarzyna Klimkiewicz. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:46