The Big Animal (2000) – By James L. Neibaur

 Jerzy Stuhr’s heartwarming film scripted by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski is a vivid black and white portrait of a man whose affection for his pet overpowers his sense and ability to deal with the misconceptions of others.

The opening scene of circus wagons pulling away and leaving a forlorn camel stranded alone struck this writer as a very bizarre take on the final scene of Charles Chaplin’s 1928 classic The Circus. The camel wanders off and finds its way into the yard of Zymunt Sawicki (director Stuhr, playing the lead), an ordinary bank clerk who plays clarinet in the village band. Initially the man enjoys his new pet, parading it through the streets as the townspeople laugh and kid him good-naturedly, while delighted children walk behind him. Soon, however, the town begins to reject that which they do not understand. Children throw things at the animal as it grazes peacefully in the yard. Law men consider buying it to slaughter and make coats. The bank clerk develops a real affection for the animal, and refuses to profit by it in any way. And while the camel disrupts the man’s life, it quietly enjoys its peaceful, free existence.

The Big Animal is filled with fascinating scenes. The clerk plays his clarinet, causing the animal to react as if it is singing along, delighting the man’s wife. The clerk reacts with indignation when told he must pay a horse tax for the animal, insisting it is not a horse. "What if everyone had a camel?" he is asked. "Nobody wants one but me!" he replies. It finally gets to the point where the camel joins the couple for dinner, sticking its head through a window above the kitchen table.

This delightful film has the underlying point about accepting that which is strange or different, but ultimately harmless. The point is made without any type of preaching.

Milestone Film and Video’s DVD offers such special features as a 31 minute interview with the director, some on-the-set footage, a theatrical trailer, and a press kit.

The Big Animal was filmed full screen, in black and white, by Pawel Edelman, who received an Oscar nomination for his cinematography on Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist. It is in Polish with English subtitles.