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Mystery Movies - Vabank

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Vabank / Hit The Bank
Jan Machulski, Leonard Pietraszak, Witold Pyrkosz
Directed and written by Juliusz Machulski
Poland 1981
Polish with English subtitles
Polart Video / Facets Multimedia 2006
105 minutes

Vabank (the American title is sometimes given as Hit The Bank) is a 1981 Polish mystery thriller about a bank heist by writer and director Juliusz Machulski that stars his father, Jan Machulski, as Kwinto, a safecracker. Vabank is a very strange and often comic thriller and a very original movie both in tone and in how the story itself is told.

Vabank opens with a very polite jewelry store robbery, a circus performance in an apartment courtyard during which a man is pushed out a window, the release of a prisoner, Kwinto, who is then "taken for a ride", and a crooked bank manager (Kramer) threatened by one of his clients after the latter was advised to deposit his money under the phony name of Kowalski (in English it would be John Smith).

It turns out Kwinto, the ex-con, and Kramer, the bank manager, were once part of a scheme together during which the former was caught after Kramer betrayed him. You learn all this when Kramer visits Kwinto and bears his soul and tries to by some peace of mind, or so it would seem. Kramer then dares his former associate to rob his bank and then sends off henchmen to kill the safecracker before he can gather up associates and take up the challenge.

Vabank is an elegant blend of the thriller with some comedy, dark stuff at times, thrown in. The soundtrack for this mystery of sorts sounds more like it belongs to a farce than a thriller yet it works. Machulski balances between both genres effortlessly and this makes Vabank a very special and entertaining movie. The comic part of this thriller reaches its peak after the robbery which is only half the story of Vabank.

The Vabank DVD I received for review featured a somewhat grainy print that will remind most of a VHS tape than DVD quality. Like a few other similar DVDs, the English subtitles have quite a few misspellings and translation flaws (wrong verb tense, etc) and you sometimes get the feeling the translator was using a bargain bin Polish to English dictionary. This does get a little annoying.

Still, this does not really take away from enjoying this very bizarre comedy mystery or from a kind of movie you do not get to see in the mainstream world. This movie was so successful it lead to a follow-up Vabank 2.

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