Netflix’s Polish film, “Autumn Girl,” is a musical biographical film that mainly focuses on a controversy in the life of Kalina Jędrusik, one of Poland’s greatest film actresses and style icons, who was considered Poland’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.
The center narrative, through its magical realism, musicals, and satire, points out the hypocrisy of a prude society where women are required to be modest no matter in which profession they are. On the contrary, Kalina Jędrusik, who wants to be stylish, flamboyant, and seductive, mocks the double standards of society, which make her a target of her own people and its government. The film, directed by Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, plays around those layers where its protagonist ignites a war with society only to change it for the better.
Plot Summary – Why Did Ryszard Molski Fire Kalina Jędrusik?
The film, without wasting any moment, brings to screen the central conflict that revolves around stereotypical modesty. Kalina Jędrusik (Maria Debska), who walks the night streets of Warsaw with her husband, Stanislaw Dygat (Leszek Lichota), asks him why women in the 1960s needs to be modest or demure even when they have achieved great heights. Why is it still that their success or achievements depend on a man’s approval? While Stanislaw doesn’t answer the question directly, the film tries to explore the question further.
“Autumn Girl” begins in 1961–62, where Kalina lives in a small apartment with her husband, Stanislaw, a young live-in boyfriend, Lucek, and a pre-teen son, Krzys. Kalina works in a satirical cabaret television show, Elderly Gentlemen’s Cabaret, in which she performs the most cherished Autumn Girl. Everything is going perfectly well for Kalina, except for her growing insecurities due to her growing age, but suddenly an event gives her a more important question to ponder.
On December 4th, 1962, Kalina performs on stage for Miner’s Day and puts on a revealing dress, thereby catching the eye of her past admirer, Ryszard Molski (Bartlomiej Kotschedoff), who had performed with Kalina in a play years before and has now become the head of the television department. After her performance, Molski invites Kalina to dinner, which she bluntly refuses, finding Molski painfully boring. However, the next day on the television set, she tries to make amends with Molski and even goes out with him when Molski reveals his desire to sleep with Kalina.
Molski, quite not understanding the meaning of consent, accuses Kalina of sleeping around with men, which makes him question why not him. Hence, Kalina’s refusal hurts Molski’s feeble pride, and he suspends her from all future television appearances. When Kalina asks the reason why, Molski states that she has offended the people by wearing a revealing dress on Miner’s Day, and thus they don’t want to see her anymore.
The film further follows Kalina’s downfall as she struggles to get validation and approval from the men around her, only to understand in the end that a woman has to fight her own battle, and she doesn’t necessarily need to be modest as much as she needs to be fierce. It’s the transformation in the character that drives the narrative to its end, only to teach her offenders a valuable lesson and a slow burn to their egos that they very much deserve.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Autumn Girl’ Ending Explained – How Did Kalina Fight Back?
Even at the beginning of the film, the narrative suggested what Kalina needed to do to protect herself in a man’s world. As she arrived outside her house, a neighbor named Mrs. Klimczakowa yelled at Kalina for bringing shame to a peaceful and posh neighborhood. Her modesty made her stand still and listen to the curses being thrown at her, but Stanislaw didn’t bother to defend his wife and moved ahead.
Thus, the narrative subtly pointed out the fact that Kalina would never stand by herself, as yelling at people or fighting back would taint her public image, which bothered her the most. Yet, Stanislaw kept pushing her through his sarcastic comments, and during an interview, he even pointed out that he neither takes people seriously nor himself. It was a direct hint for Kalina to take Stanisław’s advice, but words won’t transform people as much as humiliation and actions would. Finally, during the fashion show night, a man humiliated Kalina when Stanisław intervened and punched him, and later, while returning home, Kalina complained to Stanisław for not letting her punch the man. At this point, Stanisław finally held the mirror up to Kalina and pointed out that she was just talking about fighting herself, while in reality, she wouldn’t even protect herself from their grumpy neighbor, and it was when Kalina finally understood what she needed to do to get back her honor.
So far, it was men who made decisions in Kalina’s life, except for Stanisław, who’d let Kalina do whatever she wanted to do, and even let her bring her young boyfriend to share the roof without any fuss. Though Stanisław might be hurt, he never really expressed his feelings, and thus it was Kalina who had to make that decision because, after all, it was her life. After a humiliating experience with Jeremi, Kalina asked Lucek to pack his bags and leave, as he was the one who urged Kalina to visit Jeremi.
Kalina knew what Stanisław was trying to convey and thus not only confronted her neighbor, Klimczakowa, but also decided to face the man of all evils in her life, Ryszard Molski. She found out about Molski’s affair with his secretary Nina and humiliated him for his vulgarity and hitting on every woman he came into contact with, but this was just the anger that Kalina wanted to discharge upon him. Her words wouldn’t have changed anything or gotten her back to the job she yearned for, but then destiny heard her cries.
The director of the department, Comrade Mikosz, suddenly barged into Molski’s office and informed her about the Wieczornego Express survey, through which people had bestowed upon her the prestigious Golden Mask award. Believing that people loved her again, Mikosz sought forgiveness from Kalina and begged her to make a comeback to the show, thereby performing the role of Autumn Girl again. Kalina used the opportunity to demand a raise in her pay and finally celebrated her little victory with Stanisaw.
Kalina finally returns to the television set and, with her song, takes a dig at her rival, Ryszard Molski, while also influencing her best friend and dresser, Xymena, to confront her husband, Janusz, for cheating on her and finally leaving him for her own good. The film ended as these two women faced their fears and celebrated their victory, thereby breaking the stereotypes of society.
“Autumn Girl” is a 2022 Polish musical biographical film directed by Katarzyna Klimkiewicz.