In a Moment of Passion (1993): Beyond the Pole

Dave checks out a rare English language offering from Polish filmmaker Zbigniew Kaminski and deems it one of the oddest films to have graced these pages.

Born in the Polish city of Poznan in 1947, Zbigniew Kaminski was directing by the age of twenty-seven but was convinced his homeland couldn’t offer him the artistic freedom and career opportunities of the West. After co-writing The Maids of Wilko (1979) – an Academy Award nominated script that found itself in the clutches of fellow countryman and cinematic icon, Andrzej Wajda – Hollywood became Kaminski’s desired destination. With his wife, Ewa, alongside him, the Kaminskis fled their small apartment in Warsaw at the dawn of the ’80s, travelled through Germany, and made it to the United States as refugees. Initially staying with relatives in Buffalo, NY, it wasn’t long before they headed cross-country to Tinseltown. The move away from the cultural breadline proved artistically gratifying – but despite a handful of possibilities, the Kaminskis ultimately ventured back across the Atlantic a few years later, in lieu of the creative satisfaction Zbigniew yearned for.

Thankfully, all was not lost. The collapse of Communism at the end of the decade and the booming Polish economy that the ‘90s gave rise to presented Kaminski with a chance to produce. If he utilised contacts in America and Germany, anglicised scripts, and tweaked casting decisions without ostracising his neighbours too much, then perhaps he might engineer a success.

Now, if the barometer of success is financial, then yes: IN A MOMENT OF PASSION could be seen as relatively lucrative. If, though, we judge such things on quality, then it’s a little rough…

“It’s one of those wild videos,” wrote Mike Mayo in his essential weekly column in The Roanoke Times. “So bizarre, flamboyant, and atrocious, that it transcends the conventional definitions of good and bad.” [1]

Mayo certainly managed to define the indefinable. Even after watching Kaminski’s debut English language film, it’s hard to construe his intentions, let alone the genre he was looking to tap into.

The focal point of In a Moment of Passion is Tammy (Chase Masterson): a stuntwoman by trade, but an actress by ambition. Following the death of an actor on the set of her latest film, Tammy is sent to Germany to train the replacement, Werner Soehnen (Jeff Conaway), on how to ride a horse for the role. However, before she gets there, he’s murdered by his jealous stand-in, Victor Brandt (Maxwell Caulfield), who immediately assumes the dead performer’s identity in a quest for stardom. With Tammy and fake Werner both temporary residents at a horse farm owned by a smarmy developer, Frederick Walther (Joe Estevez), and ran by an inquisitive lesbian, Greta Hoffmeier (Julie Araskog), it’s not long before the wheels come off Victor’s diabolical scheme – albeit too late to prevent a slew of violent deaths…

The box art for In a Moment of Passion suggests another entry in the exploding erotic thriller genre of the early ‘90s when, in fact, it couldn’t be any more different. If you were pushed to liken it to anything, then Larry Blamire’s wonderful pastiche of ‘40s murder-mysteries, Dark and Stormy Night (2009), springs to mind. Obviously Kaminski did not intend for laughs, but with its ‘old dark house’ setting, artificial thunder claps, and Caulfield’s affected accent beckoning a heightened state of melodrama, it seems an unwilling yet appropriate bedfellow.

Everything about the film is achingly ill-fitting. From a head-scratching narrative that defies logic, to characters so thinly sketched that the pencil barely touches the paper. Then there’s a series of soundbar-melting music cues that feel like they’ve been rented from the stock music library three minutes before it closes. Perhaps Kaminski was simply trying to please too many people, catering to several markets (a lot of the American cast have German character names) while making allowances for his own tastes, too.

Regardless of being an abject failure in almost every department, In a Moment of Passion still makes for a curiously compelling watch and one that you want to work, if only for Kaminski’s dream to tackle an ‘American’ picture in the first place.

Premiering in Poland in March 1993, In a Moment of Passion made its stateside bow at WorldFest in Houston in April before landing in U.S. video stores the following autumn courtesy of Hemdale Home Video.

USA ● 1993 ● Thriller ● 101mins

Maxwell Caulfield, Chase Masterson, Joe Estevez, Robert Z’Dar, Jeff Conaway ● Dir. Zbigniew Kaminski  ● Wri. Charles Haigh, Zbigniew Kaminski

[1] It Came from the Video Store by Mike Mayo, The Roanoke Times, 13th November 1993.

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