31 October 2013

Barbara Brylska

During the 1970s, Polish actress Barbara Brylska (1941) was featured in numerous films throughout the countries of the Warsaw Pact. She is noted especially for her role as Nadya in the classic Soviet comedy Ironiya sudby/Irony of Fate (1975).

Barbara Brylska
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 2709, 1966. Retail price: 0,20 MDN. Photo: Balinski.

Phoenician Priestess

Barbara Brylska was born in Skotniki, near Łódź, Poland in 1941. Her early childhood was marked by the trauma of survival under the Nazi occupation of Poland during the Second World War.

At the age of 15, she played a bit part in the film Kalosze szczescia/Lucky Boots (Antoni Bohdziewicz, 1958) with Maria Gella. After this small uncredited role, she took acting lessons at Lodz Theatre School and then studied at Warsaw School of Theatre, Cinema and Television. In 1967 she completed her acting education.

Brylska's first major film role was in the drama Ich dzień powszedni/Their Everyday Life (Aleksander Scibor-Rylski, 1963) opposite ‘the Polish James Dean’ Zbigniew Cybulski. She appeared with Tadeusz Lomnicki and a young Daniel Olbrychski in the war drama Potem nastapi cisza/And All Will Be Quiet (Janusz Morgenstern 1966).

Her appearance in Bumerang/Boomerang (1966) made her one of the most popular actresses in Poland. And the same year, she also played a supporting role as the Phoenician priestess Kama in the Oscar nominated film Faraon/Pharaoh (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1966), based on the novel by Bolesław Prus. Star of the three-hour epic historical drama was Jerzy Zelnik as Pharaoh Ramses XIII, with whom she had a relationship.

Brylska married twice, in 1961 to Jan Borovets, and in 1970 to Ludwig Kosmal. In 1968, she played in the East-German Western Spur des Falken/Trail of the Falcon (Gottfried Kolditz,1968) with Gojko Mitic. The next year she played the female lead in the crime mystery Zbrodniarz, który ukradl zbrodnie/The Criminal Who Stole a Crime (Janusz Majewski, 1969), and a supporting role in Pan Wolodyjowski/Colonel Wolodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969), featuring Tadeusz Lomnicki.

Hal Erickson at AllMovie: “Polish documentary filmmaker Jerzy Hoffman brought an aura of realism to the sweeping historical epic Colonel Wolodyjowski. Originally running 160 minutes, the film was based on a trilogy of patriotic novels by Henry Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis?). The story, set in the 17th century, details the bloody struggle on the Eastern border between the Poles and the invading Turkish hordes. Giving the box-office potential of Colonel Wolodyjowski a major boost was the presence in the supporting cast of 24-year-old matinee idol Daniel Olbrychski. Successful in its home country, Colonel Wolodyjowski unfortunately made very little impression outside of Poland; but then, would a biopic of George Washington play well in Warsaw?”

Barbara Brylska in Weisse Wölfe
East-German card by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 89/69, 1969. Retail price: 0,20 MDN. Photo: DEFA. Publicity still for Weisse Wölfe/White Wolves (Bosko Boskovic, Konrad Petzold, 1969).

The Irony of Fate

In the early 1970s, Barbara Brylska played in such Polish (co-)productions as the war film Osvobozhdenie: Napravleniye glavnogo udara/Liberation (Yuri Ozerov 1971), and Anatomia milosci/Anatomy of Love (Roman Zaluski, 1972) with Jan Nowicki. She also played in Russian, Czechoslovak and Bulgarian films.

Her biggest success was the romantic Soviet comedy Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!/The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Eldar Ryazanov, 1975) opposite Andrey Myagkov. Simultaneously a screwball comedy and a love story tinged with sadness, it is one of the most popular Russian television productions ever.

Originally, the two consecutive episodes of Ironiya sudby were broadcast by Soviet television on 1 January 1976. Author Fedor Razzakov recalled that "virtually the entire country watched the show"; an estimated 100 million viewers. By 1978, after several broadcasts, the accumulated number of viewers was estimated at some 250 million. A shortened 155 minutes version was released to cinemas in August 1976 and sold some 7 million tickets.

In 1977 she was a member of the jury at the 10th Moscow International Film Festival. For her role as Nadya, she was elected as the most popular actress in Russia according to several polls, she also won the State Prize of the USSR (1977). Her acceptance of this award created controversy in her home country.

Steve Shelokhonov at IMDb: “However, Brylska was critical about the rigid political and cultural atmosphere in the Soviet Union. She put her popularity at risk for saying some tough truth about the Soviet regime, albeit the wide Russian audiences were sympathizing with her criticism and understanding of how people were suffering under domination of the Soviet Communist Party.”

She continued to appear regularly on Russian television. Her films in the following decades were less popular, with a few exceptions such as the Czech production Skalpel, prosím/Scalpel, Please (Jirí Svoboda, 1985) with Jana Brejchová. She would later claim that she was caught in political tensions between Poland and the Soviet Union, and her continuing success with Ironiya sudby caused jealousy in the Polish film community and led it to ignore her work. However for the Russian public, Ironiya sudby is now a classic piece of their popular culture and still broadcasted every New Year's Day.

Barbara Brylska, Karl Zugowski in Weisse Wölfe
East-German card by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 89/69, 1969. Retail price: 0,20 MDN. Photo: DEFA. Publicity still for Weisse Wölfe/White Wolves (Bosko Boskovic, Konrad Petzold, 1969) with Karl Zugowski.

Classic Noblesse, Beauty, Intelligence, And Effortless Style

Barbara Brylska had two children with her second husband Ludwig Kosmal, Barbara (1973) and Ludwig (1982). Barbara Kosmal became a model in Paris, but only 20, she died tragically in a car accident. After her daughter’s death and a burglary in her apartment in Warsaw, Brylska suffered from a nervous breakdown, but she continued acting.

After a long screen hiatus, she played a supporting role in Russia in the grotesque crime comedy Daun Haus/Down House (Roman Kachanov, 2000), based on The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. That same year, she made her stage debut in Moscow, in the popular play Quartet opposite Svetlana Kryuchkova. Since then she primarily acted in Russia, in stage plays and on television, but also in the cinema.

In 2003 she starred in the Russian comedy Casus belli/Symphony of Silence (Igor Ugolnikov, 2003). In 2006 followed the Ukrainian comedy Strannoe Rozhdestvo/Strange Christmas (Maksim Papernik, 2006), reuniting her with Liya Akhedzhakova, who had played her friend in Ironiya sudby. Brylska played Olga Samoilova, a wealthy lady who was forced into a retirement home by her money hungry relatives.

Then Brylska was cast again as the aged Nadya in the sequel to her most popular film, Ironiya sudby. Prodolzhenie/Irony of Fate: The Sequel (Timur Bekmambetov, 2008). Again, it became a box office hit and grossed over $55 million to a production budget of $5 million.

Barbara Brylska remains beloved in Russia and the former Soviet republics for her classic noblesse, beauty, intelligence, and effortless style. Her most recent film is the Polish comedy Milosc na wybiegu/Love on the catwalk (Krzysztof Lang, 2009).

Barbara Brylska
Big East-German card by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 112/69, 1969. Retail price: 0,40 MDN. Photo: Nasierowska.

Sources: Steve Shelokhonov (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Tom B. (Westerns All’Italiana), AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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