It’s summer, so we’re doing what we want on the blog (in contrast to every other season). This week we’re up for some education on sexual and reproductive health…in 1970s Poland. Based on a true story!
The Art of Loving
A renowned Polish gynecologist struggles to publish a book that addresses very real–and very taboo–sexual issues married couples experience.
Michalina Wisłocka, having worked as a gynecologist for years in many parts of Poland, has long been an advocate for contraception and the demystification of sex. Now, in the 1970s, she is ready to publish a book to help married couples, and especially women, understand their reproductive health and sexual issues. Enter the Catholic Church, stage left. Also the Soviets. Plus the media. And throw in a few disgruntled misogynists too for good measure. Getting a book published on such a taboo topic is going to be a battle.
As it turns out, Michalina has always been surrounded by controversy. After spying on a skinny dipping man with her bff Wanda, Michalina eventually ends up marrying him. In large part because of Wanda, Michalina and her husband Stach survive the war. Wanda goes to live with the couple, and they eventually become a threesome. Michalina thinks this will work out perfectly as Wanda fulfills Stach’s sexual needs, while Michalina will fulfill his emotional needs.
After the war is over, Michalina pursues a medical degree and the 3 live together in harmony. Of course, this doesn’t last—when both Michalina and Wanda become pregnant, things get rather complicated. As Wanda is an unmarried woman, Michalina claims both as her own children. This will be totally fine and never backfire as this unconventional family will be together forever…right?
Yeah, maybe not. Wanda feels like a 3rd wheel and decides to leave with her son. This move will create absolutely no trauma for any parties involved…by which I mean SO much trauma for everyone. Wanda leaving triggers the dissolution of Michalina and Stach’s marriage, transforming a family of 5 into a party of 2.
Devastated, Michalina retreats to a small Polish village for the summer. Though she insists she’s taking a break from men, Michalina is nevertheless drawn to Jurek, a married sailor with a secret romantic streak. From Jurek, Michalina gets her signature style of clothing made primarily from curtains. She also feels encouraged to love and appreciate her body for the first time. Unfortunately, Jurek is going to have to choose between his family and Michalina…3 guesses on how that turns out.
In the present day (by which I mean the 1970s), Michalina is on the verge of publishing her book. However, to avoid controversy, the chapter on female orgasms has been cut. Following a ridiculous male rights conversation about men’s orgasms being important too (we know), Michalina walks with her book, refusing to compromise on this.
Will Michalina find a publisher and help thousands of Polish women reach their, er, full potential? Related question: is there a time in history when middle-aged white dudes are not trying to control women’s bodies?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I absolutely love the portrayal of Michalina in this (by Magdalena Boczarska). She’s smart, confident, caring, and unwaveringly determined. Some of her lines are absolutely brilliant–my favorites being “I am the sexual revolution and I’m coming,” and “You’re from a vagina; you weren’t found in a cabbage patch.” What a woman.
However, there are a few things I find frustrating throughout the film. The entire subplot of the secret baby mama feels melodramatic and disjointed. Michalina is heartbroken when Wanda leaves with her child and believes both kids will be fucked up for life. Yet after this scene, the film spends very little time exploring the effects on all parties and wrapping up this part of the story.
After the dissolution of the Michalina/Wanda/Stach relationship, the close bond between Michalina and Wanda disappears. It’s frustrating to see such a genuine love vanish because of men–and indeed the extent to which Michalina’s early decisions are influenced by men. While I adore Jurek and his surprisingly forward-thinking brand of 1970s Polish feminism, I dislike how much of the film revolves around Michalina’s relationships with men.