Forgiveness is hard for some people. It’s especially hard for Joanna, an entomology professor and the daughter of a famous Polish politician from the 50’s. After celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Jan, she finds an unlabelled VHS tape in a pile of gifts. On it is a news program alleging that when they met, Jan was actually a secret agent for the Polish secret service and that their marriage was a sham designed to uncover possible communist ties. There is no indication of who brought the tape or why. But that doesn’t stop Joanna from being immediately suspicious of her husband. Of course he denies it. And even if it were true, it’s clear that he has truly loved her for quite some time. As he aptly puts it, “Who, if not you, knows what sort of man I am?” But she doesn’t listen. She is consumed with mistrust and anger. Her emotions propel her into a deep depression. She becomes extremely cruel, not letting him touch or even talk to her. She locks herself in her office where she eats and sleeps, doing everything in her power to avoid him while she attempts to obtain proof of his guilt.
Joanna completely unravels as a result of this supposed betrayal. Jan is understandably frustrated. He tries absolutely everything in his power to reason with her. But she won’t have it. And it’s awful to watch. You’re never sure when she plans to stop being a bitch and leave him, believe him or forgive him. She takes a leave of absence from her job. She waters plants in the dark. She loses a taste for food and can only eat cereal. She basically goes mental and her poor husband can do nothing but watch it happen. He makes one final attempt at reaching her by calling in their daughter to talk some sense into her. The daughter tells Joanna that her father was the only one who was ever there for her. He couldn’t have been a fraud because he was the better parent. She listens stone-faced and then throws up to get away from the intervention.
The themes of the Polish film “Scratch” are certainly interesting – the notion that one’s entire life could have been a lie, consumption by unsubstantiated suspicion, past indiscretions coming back to haunt you – but Joanna is so awful to Jan from the first second she suspects him that it’s incredibly hard to feel sorry for her, whether or not he is guilty. The film moves very slowly with scene after scene of slamming doors and one-sided conversations. You’re constantly wondering where this story is going and it’s a little boring waiting for it to get there. The ending arrives abruptly with no real resolution.
There’s nothing enjoyable about this film. No jokes. No tender moments. No reason to care about the woman who takes up the majority of the celluloid. We never get a chance to become emotionally invested. If Joanna had been developed as nice at first or if we’d seen more of them as a happy couple maybe we could see this as an otherwise good person stripped of her rationality through grief. But the scene with the daughter implies that she was always this self-absorbed and distant. So why should we care what happens to her? Let her be alone with her cereal and her bugs.