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Two Crowns: A Review

Last year, I reviewed Polish director Michal Kondrat’s fine docudrama, Love and Mercy [1], the life story of St. Faustina – she of the Divine Mercy image and chaplet. I liked it, even though there were aspects of the film I found unsatisfying. Still, I was able to write: “please, see this film, because it explains why Divine Mercy Sunday and its chaplet are so important.”

Several years before, Mr. Kondrat directed another docudrama about St. Maximilian Kolbe called Two Crowns, and – although I like this film less – I still urge TCT readers to keep an eye out for it, and, in fact, Fathom Events has the film in theaters TODAY only. Click here for details [2]. (It will be available on disc or to stream soon.)

The story of Fr. Kolbe is even more remarkable and dramatic than Sr. Faustina’s.

What then is my gripe about Two Crowns? Let me start by recalling a third film with a Polish setting, one I truly loved: Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents [3]. I won’t go into detail about that great motion picture, except to say that it’s about a Polish convent ravaged by Soviet soldiers in 1945. I mention it here because the film was shot in two languages: Polish and French and then subtitled in English. Love and Mercy was mostly in English and used subtitles for those speaking Polish.

Some moviegoers don’t like subtitles; others don’t like voiceovers, such as you see on the news when someone speaks a foreign language and an off-camera voice translates, or, as in Two Crowns when exposition is needed and a narrator provides it. What I haven’t seen in a very long time (and, thank heavens, Mr. Kondrat didn’t deploy it in Love and Mercy) is dubbing.

Maybe you saw the original Godzilla, the Japanese-language film in which (in the American version) the principal English speaker is Raymond Burr. He plays a radio announcer describing scenes of the sea monster’s destruction of Tokyo – entirely new footage spliced into the original, with the voices of the Japanese actors over-dubbed in English, often to hilarious effect. Love and Mercy was mostly in English and used subtitles for characters speaking Polish.

In Two Crowns, Polish or Japanese is spoken, whether by actors or real-life priests, monks, or historians. St. Maximilian Kolbe, of course, lived most of his life and died in Poland, but he evangelized in Japan. And Mr. Kondrat took his camera and crew there, mostly to Nagasaki, where Kolbe built up a community and a monastery in the years (1930-36) prior to his return to Poland ahead of the onset of WWII.

The dubbing here is done with unnecessary tics and pauses meant to “sync” English words with the Polish or Japanese speakers’ lips, and, in my opinion, it simply doesn’t work. Subtitles would have been much better and less distracting. But enough about that.

*

Two Crowns tells the story of St. Maximilian from his boyhood through his death, and it’s an amazing story. The boy (played by Mateusz Pawlowski) has a vision of Our Lady, who offers him two crowns: one for a life of heroic virtue and another for martyrdom. He must choose, and he chooses both. From an early age, Rajmund Kolbe – Maximilian was the name he was given upon entering the Conventual Franciscan novitiate at 16 – was devout, especially so in his devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He also became a Polish patriot.

That devotion led him, with other seminarians, to found a group called Militia Immaculatae (“Army of the Immaculate One”) and a magazine, Knight of the Immaculata. [Note: When first published, this column included a link that may not have been appropriate. I’ve removed it -BM]

Kolbe came from a very Catholic family – so much so that his entire family entered religious life – including his parents, who separated in order to enter different consecrated communities, as had the parents of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Kolbe (played here as an adult by Adam Woronowicz) was a man who, from youth, suffered poor health and yet worked tirelessly and selflessly for the faith, accomplishing things few thought he could, including that evangelical ministry in Japan.

Two Crown’s Japanese footage takes up much of the film. Mr. Kondrat visits “St. Kolbe Father commemoration place” (that’s the way the sign, in English, reads). And in what is now a Nagasaki museum, we see where Fr. Kolbe began printing Knight of the Immaculata within a month of his arrival – in Japanese, a language he could neither speak nor write.

Mr. Kondrat was in Nagasaki during ceremonies commemorating the 1945 nuclear attack, and he dwells rather too much on that awful event. It does, however, give him a chance to relate an extraordinary anecdote, told by an elderly Japanese Franciscan friar, about Kolbe’s decision not to build a monastery in the center of Nagasaki. Sometime in the mid-1930s, the future saint had said, looking around at a proposed construction site, “Soon a fireball will fall down here and destroy everything.”

But. . .here we are, nearly at the end of this review, and I’ve yet to mention the aspect of St. Maximilian’s life everybody knows: his internment and death at Auschwitz. Well, that’s the way it is in the film too. In a 1-hour-and-20-minute movie, we get to WWII a little over an hour in.

The atomic-bomb attack on Nagasaki was horrific, but it had nothing to do with Kolbe, who had died four years earlier.

Thus, the last twenty minutes of the film seem rushed. This is not to say the story of Kolbe’s internment and martyrdom are not effectively presented.

As readers surely know, Kolbe gave his life for another prisoner, convincing the Nazis to let him take the man’s place with other condemned men in a cold cellar where the intention was to starve them to death. Kolbe was the last to die.

But the film gives the impression that St. Maximilian died of starvation, whereas he was actually killed by the lethal injection of carbolic acid. It’s an odd exclusion. (Note, though, that messages in Polish scroll at film’s end and may explain this. Subtitles would help.)

In any case, young Rajmund Kolbe was a living saint and, at 47, Maximilian Kolbe died as one.

___

Two Crowns does not have an MPAA rating, but it would probably deserve a PG-13 for a death-camp scene in which a German interrogator strikes Kolbe, and because the condemned men in that cellar are nude, although filmed in an unrevealing manner. The trailer is here [4].

*Image: St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Charity [5] by Neilson Carlin © 2018 [Neilson Carlin Fine Art, Kennett Square, PA]. Asked about the inspiration for this extraordinary painting, Mr. Carlin replied: “I was moved to the core by the story of his sacrifice. The piece was done for no other reason than a profound respect for his true light in the darkness of that camp. Hence, the reason he is the only one in full color.”

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman will be published in a new edition by Regnery in May of 2021.