Archive for the ‘KINOTEKA’ Category

1970 (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Tomasz Wolski; Documentary/animation feature; Poland 2021, 70 min.

Tomasz Wolski finds an inventive way of staging the famous uprising of Polish workers in the Baltic towns of Gdansk and Sopot, that kicked off just before Christmas 1970.

The intense battle of wits plays out from the perspective of the leading communist bureaucrats and ministers played by puppets in stop motion mode. Their arguments are based on original archive phone conversations. Against this background, the director uses documentary material shot for TV and newsreel at the time of the uprising.

The quorum of six ‘decision-makers’ is led by Kazimierz Switala, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and number three in the Stalinist hierarchy, who died in 2011, without ever having faced trial. Barricading themselves in a room thick with cigarette smoke, the negotiators jabber away on multiple telephones. The protest, turning into an uprising, explodes at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, where workers lay down tools after the government increased the price of essentials by a massive 20 percent.  

Placards ask for the resignation of Wladislaw Gomolka, First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party – and even more worrying for a change of system: “Away with Communism!” The six leaders get more and more agitated when the Central Railway Station is set on fire, and three Militia officers are trapped in a fire on the third floor of a building, surrounded by demonstrators.

In scenes all too familiar with the current crisis in Ukraine, Molotov Cocktails are thrown by the protestors, people are on fire, and police water cannons have a brutal impact. The defenders of law and order are quibbling about the use of engaging the military in the conflict – they might be needed in Krakow, another hot point of protest. Six civilians are reported dead, with 19 police officers wounded – the interim score promises more casualties.

The black-and-white documentary material, shown in the original 4:3 format is frightening in its intensity: police beating up their prisoners, fires breaking out in apartment blocks. The cold makes matters worse, and the inadequately dressed demonstrators  freeze in the frosty weather. They make up for it by throwing even bigger stones at the police and militia.

In the end, the protests go on for over a week with 27 000 soldiers engaged in the open warfare, 550 tanks and 750 combat vehicles let loose by the Stalinist authorities with 1500 units of chemicals being poured over the demonstrators from low flying helicopters. 1164 protesters were injured, forty-one died. So nothing on the scale of the modern day Ukraine conflict but still a force to be reckoned with in this demonstration against the mighty kosh of the Stalinist regime.  

Over four decades later only one individual was found guilty: Czeslaw Kiszczak, one of the six in the command unit, and the only one to face trial, was given a two year suspended prison sentence.

The uprising led to a pyrrhic victory for the Workers Party: new puppets were installed by Moscow, and one of the highlights of the animated puppet show, designed by Robert Sowa, is the big hand reaching from above, and collecting the six warlords like marionettes, to be thrown into the dustbin the of history. To say ‘history repeats itself’ is once again proved true. AS

SCREENING AT KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 27 March LONDON 2022

 

 

A Woman at Night (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

Dir Rafael Kapelinski | Jennifer Tao, Lon Lin, Miles Richardson, Alex Change, Leigh Gill, Piotr Adamczyk | UK, China Polish 81’

London can be a lonely place as two girls from Shanghai find out in this stylishly suggestive fantasy drama from Rafael Kapelinski.

The young cousins move into the neighbourhood where the infamous serial killer Denis Nilsen performed his grisly murders. Nilsen preyed upon young boys who had lost their way and fallen through the cracks of society trying to find work down south in the capital. Here the marginalised characters are female and come from much further afield to discover that life in the big city is just as dangerous as it ever was, and potentially more so, but are certainly cannier than their 1980s British counterparts.

Yiling and Yao are very much Ying and Yang, but when the more spiritual of the two gets a job at an estate agency with Nilsen’s old flat on the books she suddenly gets a nose for the money. Far from a ‘des res’ the dingy attic flat in Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill becomes a potential gold mine attracting all kinds of undesirables obsessed with renting – but not buying – the property, and willing to pay any price for the pleasure. Hovering in the twilight certainly brings out the worst in the macabre visitors who will stop at nothing to gain access to the dank top floor premises: there is a professor with sinister sexual proclivities and a silvered tongued midget named Lee who echoes the dwarf in the Singing Ringing Tree.

Kapelinski assembles an eclectic cast of British actors alongside Tao and Lin who are no shrinking violets contrary to their delicate appearances. The standout is Miles Richardson who is really sinister as the posh Professor Laskey whose lewd suggestions meet with derision when Yiling lets him into her car.  Rather slim of plot but rich in atmosphere the Polish filmmaker cleverly works true crime into a strikingly imagined contemporary thriller that scratches at the edges of horror with a narrative that could provide rich pickings for more Nilsen-themed fare. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 9 March – 3 April, 2022

The In-Laws (2021) Kinoteka 2022

Dir.: Jacub Michalczuk; Cast: Maja Ostaszewska, Marcin Dorocinski, Izabela Kuna, Adam Woronowicz, Ewa Dalkowska); Poland 2021, 82 min.

The debut feature of Polish director Jacub Michalczuk from a script by Marek Modzelewski is a fast moving farce with sparkling action and a sometimes bitter critique of contemporary Polish class divisions. Brilliantly acted, this is not for the faint-hearted: these in-laws spare nothing and nobody.

Lukasz and Weronika were supposed to be getting married – but after the whole thing fell through their parents take centre stage in the posh hotel where the ‘happy couple’ are soon forgotten as everyone has a ball. Posh couple Malgorzata (Ostaszweska) and Andrzej (Dorocinski) and their spoilt kid Lukasz, start fighting with Weronika’s downmarket parents Wanda (Kuna) and Tadeusz (Woronowicz).

Who ditched who is uncertain but what is obvious is that bitchy Malgorzata is secretly delighted  about the end of the affair which bizarrely remained unconsummated for its four-year duration.  Her counterpart Wanda doesn’t seem too bothered either. She always resented Malgorzata’s snobbishness and is only too happy to let fly in the punch up that follows: Malgorzata flooring Wanda, and nearly breaking her nose. And when Wanda gets out of hospital there’s hell to pay – quite literally, Tadeusz getting off quite lightly in an out of court settlement. But that’s not the end of the story and soon a whole can of worms opens with accusations of infidelity flying around, not to mention suggestions of a lesbian liaison between Malgorzata and Weronica. Tadeusz tries to keep the peace, to no avail in a this raunchy black comedy which occasionally goes over the top  in terms of tastelessness. Joining the ranks of the wedding disasters sub-genre, this is a short, sharp shock – a proper B-movie for our times. AS

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 9 March – 3 April 2022

 

 

 

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | 9 March – 3 April 2022

KINOTEKA celebrates its 20th Anniversary back on the big screen.

From 9th March to 3rd April 2022, the festival showcases the latest Polish films along with some vintage cult classics at the ICA and BFI Southbank and at Edinburgh’s prestigious Filmhouse cinema, and enjoy a selection at home on BFI player too.

Amongst the highlights are Jerzy Skolimowski’s IDENTIFICATION MARKS: NONE’, Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar nominated THE YOUNG LADIES OF WILKO; Andrzej Żuławski’s cult science fiction masterpiece ON THE SILVER GLOBE and Agnieszka Holland’s potent political period piece FEVER

 

The Closing Night film at the BFI Southbank, will be the UK premier of the newly restored 1924 black and white silent FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1924) directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring his Polish muse, Pola Negri as a luminous Catherine the Czarina accompanied by la live score specially composed by Marcin Pukaluk.

 

NEW POLISH CINEMA

The Opening Night film, Agnieszka Woszczyńska’s award-winning thriller SILENT LAND (2021) Also headlining this strand of New Polish Cinema is Poland’s OSCAR hopeful LEAVE NO TRACES, (2021), Jan P. Matuszyński’s award-winning story of police brutality in communist Poland set in 1983. Other films in this strand include 25 YEARS OF INNOCENCE (below) a huge box office hit in Poland. SONATA, the inspirational, true story of a deaf pianist which won the Audience Award and Best Debut Actor at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival. 1970 is a compelling documentary looking at political unrest during that time when a series of strikes and riots took place against the communist government in Poland. The film draws upon archival photography, recently-discovered telephone conversations and stop-motion animation to give a new understanding of what actually happened and why. This screening will be followed by the Q&A with director Tomasz Wolski.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS AT JW3

JW3 is to screen two outstanding and incredibly powerful films during the Festival. Ryszard Brylski’s THE DEATH OF ZYGIELBOJM  the true and little known story of the tragic fate of Szmul Zygielbojm, an exiled Jewish political activist who committed suicide in London in 1943 to draw attention to the plight of Jews in Europe. Seen through the eyes of a child called Tomek, Konrad Aksinowicz’s moving and raw BACK TO THOSE DAYS at his life with an alcoholic father, who eventually destroys his family life and childhood.

Full details on all of the films taking part in the Festival and a link to book tickets can be found on Kinoteka’s dedicated website:-https://kinoteka.org.uk/

 

Leave No Traces (2021)

Dir.: Jan P. Matuszynski; Cast: Sandra Korzeniak, Mateus Gorski, Tomasz Zietek, Alexandra Konieczna, Sebastian Pawlak; Poland/Czech Republic/France, 160 min.

Jan P. Matuszynski’s passionate if rather sprawling political thriller is testament to how ordinary people as well as the police forces were complicit in Poland’s tyrannical Stalinist regime that led to the murder of 18 year old Grgzegorz Przemyk, son of the poet and Solidarnosc supporter Barbara Sadowska (Sandra Korzeniak).

In Warsaw on the 12th of May 1983, Przemyk (Gorski) was celebrating the end of term with his friend Lezary Filozof (Zietek). But the evening was to end in tragedy after the teenager was arrested for drunken behaviour and beaten up by local police in a way that outward signs were hardly visible, according to the para-medics, Michal Wisocky (Pawlak) and Jacek Szyzdek.

The authorities, Party, Military and Police, immediately started a cover-up operation which included raids on Filozosf’s home, while the witness was in hiding. The secret police found love letters from Filozof to Barbara Sadowska, and used them to subdue Filozof’s statement. His parents, afraid that the regime would damage their livelihoods by inventing ‘irregularities’, denounced their son to the Secret Police.

But Lezary did not give in to pressure. Meanwhile, the authorities made one of the paramedics, Wisocky, admit, that he trampled on Grgzegorz. Again, they used threats against his family to elicit the false confession. Wisocky later tried to commit suicide in prison. Franziske Rusek, the independent prosecutor, was then replaced with the more pliable Jozef Zyta, who was under the influence of hardliner Wieslawa Bardonowa (Konieczna), a fierce State Prosecutor.

When the trial opened in December 1983, nearly all the defendants were cleared, apart from the guiltless paramedics, who were sentenced to two years in prison, but released earlier. Even though in 1993, after the fall of Stalinism, an independent commission tried to uncover the truth, the statute of limitation ran out in 2010, and everyone involved got off scott free. Several years later Barbara Sadowska died of lung cancer.

DoP Kacper Fertacz’ hyper realist images show how squallid the living conditions were in the 1980s, even for the supposedly middle class Lezary family. Performance wise, Alexandra Konieczna (Wieslawa Bardonowa) makes for a steely General Prosecutor masquerading as a middle-aged ‘Hausfrau’, who visits her friends for an afternoon of coffee and cakes after using her considerable brain power to destroy the witness Filozof in a frightening turn as a petit-bourgeois avenger let loose. The rather self indulgent running time of over two hours dilutes the thrust of the powerful storyline- the endless meetings of the Apparatchiks could have been scaled down. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

Kinoteka 2021 | 6 May – 4 June 2021

KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival in London goes online again this year from 6 May – 4 June. Lockdown permitting the 19th Edition hopes to show some live screenings so watch this space for further details.

Meanwhile back online, some of the UK’s leading cultural institutions will host the festival’s 19th edition: BFI, ICA, POSK Cinema, The International Online Theatre Festival, Second Run and Channel 4’s Walter Presents.

KINOTEKA 2021 launches on 6th May with Mariusz Wilczyński’s award-winning animated debut feature Kill It and Leave This Town, a surrealist reflection on memory and loss (below and review to follow).

 

In a programme brimming with Polish talent – established and emerging there – will be two strands dedicated to great masters from the 20th and 21st centuries. The Undiscovered Masters strand at Second Run On Demand highlights five lesser-known films from, amongst others, Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Żuławski and Agnieszka Holland (whose Kobieta samotna is the most devastating love story I have ever seen). Meanwhile the Modern Polish Cinema strand on BFI Player brings together documentary and fiction from directors including Krzysztof Krauze, Paweł Łoziński and Agnieszka Smoczyńska.

The Kinoteka x Walter Presents strand at POSK Cinema premieres the first two episodes on VOD of two recent breakout Polish TV productions.

Also to look forward to is the 80th anniversary of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s birth, with the 80 Years of Kieślowski strand on the ICA Cinema 3 platform which commemorates the great Polish auteur’s life and legacy, and will stream from 11 May – 1 June 2021.

KINOTEKA 2021 will also showcase Cannes 2020 Official Selection – Magnus von Horn’s sophomore feature Sweat, exploring the cult of fitness and celebrity at a time when many are yearning for meaningful human interaction and intimacy.

Dekalog 6

 

80 YEARS OF KIEŚLOWSKI | Dekalog and documentary shorts

The 80 Years of Kieślowski strand highlights a selection of the internationally-acclaimed director’s work pre-1990. The 10-part television series Dekalog is presented in its entirety, with individual episodes available for streaming across the festival period. Additionally, a selection of five early documentary shorts – Refrain (1972), From a Night Porter’s Point of View (1977), Hospital (1976), Seven Women of Different Ages (1978) and Talking Heads (1980) – highlight the formal and narrative motifs that Kieślowski would continue to develop throughout his career.

Fugue (2018)

 

MODERN POLISH CINEMA | Poland’s leading documentary and fiction films

The Modern Polish Cinema strand presents a selection of 10 contemporary classics. Among the fiction films presented are the gripping thriller Fugue (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2018); irreverent comedy Day of the Wacko (Marek Koterski, 2002) and the harrowing Rose (2011) from enfant terrible Wojciech Smarzowski. A selection of recent documentaries includes the moving You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (Paweł Łoziński, 2016), a dreamlike vision of Warsaw in All These Sleepless Nights (Michał Marczak, 2016) and the Oscar-nominated The Children of Leningradsky (Hanna Polak, 2004).

The Modern Polish Cinema strand is available to stream via BFI Player Subscription from 6–27 May.

On The Silver Globe (1988)

 

UNDISCOVERED MASTERS | Five films from 20th century icons

The Undiscovered Masters strand presents, in association with Second Run, a series of lesser-known films from five renowned Polish filmmakers, many of whom would later gain great international success: Man on the Tracks (Andrzej Munk, 1957), Walkover (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1965),On the Silver Globe (Andrzej Żuławski, 1988), and The Temptation (Barbara Sass, 1995).

The Undiscovered Masters strand is available to stream on Second Run On Demand from 6–27 May.

The King of Warsaw

 

KINOTEKA x WALTER PRESENTS | Raven and The King of Warsaw

The Kinoteka x Walter Presents strand brings two exciting Polish television productions to UK screens for the first time. In Raven (2018–present), a troubled detective returns to his home town in eastern Poland to investigate a child kidnapping case. There, he quite literally battles his own childhood demons in this supernatural take on the crime genre. An adaptation of Szczepan Twardoch’s novel of the same name, The King of Warsaw (2020) charts the rise of Jewish boxer Jakub Szapiro through the criminal underworld of 1930s Warsaw, as he negotiates not only the political elite but also the growing fascist threat. Both series will be available at a later date via Walter Presents, which already hosts some of Poland’s leading television productions.

Raven is available on demand via POSK Cinema on 20 May and will be followed by a Q&A with lead actor Michał Żurawski.
The King of Warsaw is available on demand via POSK Cinema on 3 June and will be followed by a Q&A with lead actor Michał Żurawski.

DOCUMENTARY | The Wall of Shadows

The Documentary strand highlights the award-winning The Wall of Shadows (Eliza Kubarska, 2020). The film is shot in the Himalayas, where a group of European climbers convince a local Sherpa couple to guide them up the holy mountain Kumbhakarna, against their better judgement.

The Wall of Shadows is available to stream on demand via ICA’s Cinema 3 platform from 13 – 20 May.

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Camouflage (1976) Barwy Ochronne | Kinoteka 2020

Dir/wri: Krzysztof Zanusssi | Cast: Piotr Garlicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Christine Paul-Podlasky, Mariusz Dmochowski, Wojciech Alaborski | 106min  Comedy Drama  Polish with subtitles

Krzysztof Zanusssi’s Camouflage is a satire worthy of Lubitsch, set in a summer camp in the mid Seventies, where progressive professor Jaroslaw Kruszynaki (Garlicki) is battling it out with old hand and party faithful, Jacub Szelestowski (Zapasiewicz).

The pawn between the two kings is student Jarek, whose paper in the linguistic completion is original but does not tow the party line. When the deputy dean arrives for the prize-giving ceremony, all hell breaks loose: the Dean is bitten, chaos reigns and the police are called in.

Zanussi’s attack on the meritocracy based on party affiliation and nothing else, plays like out like an absurdist comedy, revealing corruption, disillusionment and confusion. Reality is always close by: Poland’s filmmakers of that era were competing with each other for major prizes at home and abroad: and while the more diffident amongst them gained support from political bureaucrats, the more adventurous found adulation and prizes in Venice and Cannes – doubt where Zanussi belonged. Since the censors could hardly fault his clever narrative construction – open to interpretation – they accused him of “mocking the system” in quoting Lenin, when Jacub argues “most important is the selection of staff”. Zanussi eventually gave in, changing ‘staff’ to ‘people’.

As a director whose style was more humorously subversive than Wajda with his dramatic frontal attacks; he employs down-to-earth characters who are very much aware of being totally compromised by the socio-political situation they find themselves in. They do not revolt openly but try just to survive with as much self-respect as possible. Zanussi never denounces his characters, but shows their reaction to the intellectual oppression of the state in relation to what they have to lose: in this way he is a humanist who accepts that the older one gets, the more there is to lose. Above all, Camouflage is witty and extremely subtle and a highlight of this canon. A great choice for a weird year! AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

The Iron Bridge | Zelazny Most (2019) Kinoteka Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Monica Jordan-Mlodzianowska; Cast: Julia Kijowska, Barthlomiej Tapa, Lukasz Simlat, Andrzej Konopka; Poland 2019, 85 min.

The coal mines of Silesia form the gritty backdrop to this fraught menage a trois drama that sees two men caught up by a scheming femme fatale.

The Iron Bridge is a first film for Poland’s Monica Joran-Mlodzianowska and certainly makes a strong moral and ethical statement as the opener of this year’s Kinoteka Polish Film Festival  –  now celebrating its 18th edition, online.

Julia (Kijowska) is desperate for a child with her partner Oskar (Lukasz Simlat from Never Gonna Snow Again). But Oskar is suffering fertility problems so an affair with his boss and close friend Kacper (Bartlomiej Topa – star of Three Colours White) seems the natural solution. In order to keep Oskar busy while the two have fun, Kacper sends his friend to the deepest and most distant coal seems, where inevitably disaster strikes during a tremor. A nail-biting rescue operation is launched with Kacper’s friend and collegue Mikolaj (Konopka) coming up with an ingenious plan to save Kacper’s face and Oskar life.

There is plenty of dramatic potential here and Joran-Mlodzianowska mines it to great effect along the lines of Poland’s cinema of Moral Anxiety from the ’70 and ’80, clearly she had Kieslowski’s Dekalog in mind. The flaws are those of inexperience: a fractured narrative that breaks the tension along with lengthy flashbacks and clunky dialogue. DoP Piotr Kukla saves the day giving the film some flair and formal elegance with his subtle camerawork. AS

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2020
  

Marek Edelman…And There Was Love in the Ghetto (2020) Kinoteka 2020

Dir: Jolanta Dylewska, Andrzej Wajda | Cast: Aleksandra Popławska, Adriana Kalska, Maria Dejmek, Maria Semotiok, Kamilla Baar Kochonska; Katarzyna  Wajda, Mateusz Wajda, Patricya Rojecka, Julia Sierakwoska; Poland/Germany 2019, 79 min.

Jolanta Dylewska and veteran director Andrzej Wajda worked together on this wistful ‘behind the scenes’ story of cardiologist Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943. Edelman talks to the camera about his recollections of love in the ghetto, the romantic vignettes re-imagined by actors and intercut with archive films from the 1940s and contemporary shots from the inside of the Ghetto.

Marek Edelman (1909-2009) was also a political activist in the Polish Solidarity movement, a founder member the Jewish Labour Youth organisation before the Second World War, and later in the Ghetto. He became a cardiologist after 1945, and continued to oppose Zionism after the war, writing a letter of Solidarity to the Palestinians.

His first affair involved Dola (Poplanska) who was a nurse at the Bersohn and Bauman hospital in Warsaw, where Edelman worked. One evening, she invited young Marek into a room, telling him she could inject both of them with morphine so that they could make love. Shy Marek, who was immune to morphine, excused himself, and ran away. Later, Dola met a “Volksdeutscher” (sort of second class German) called Jozefow, who worked for Germans in the Ghetto, and the two fell in love. Dola’s husband, the couple had been divorced for a long time, was suffering from Tuberculosis and Jozefow arranged for him to live in countryside, where he brought food, which Dola fed to the invalid, before making love to Jozefow.

Mrs. Tennenbaum was a doctor at the hospital, and was lucky to get “a white card” which meant, that she was safe (at least for the time being) from deportations to the death camps. But her seventeen-year-old daughter Deda had not such luck, and her mother committed suicide, instructing her colleges in writing not to resuscitate her, but give the White Card to her daughter. Her friends honoured her wish, but Deda fell in love with a young man, and whilst they were living outside the Ghetto, with an American nurse, their lovemaking was so boisterous, that informers betrayed them to the Germans. Edelman does not know, when they were deported.

Tosia was a young woman of very middle-class background. She fell in love with a health inspector, and got pregnant. They got caught up in a round-up, when she was in her sixth month. They were dragged to the “Collection Point” near the hospital, where the Jews were forced into the wagons before deportation to the death camps. An Estonian guard wanted to shot her, but her boyfriend put her hand on her belly. The guard shot through his hand, and he was later executed, but Edelman does not know where Tosia was killed.

Hindusia Himmelfarb (Sierakowska) looked like a model Aryan: she had long blond hair and blue eyes – but she went with the children in her charge to the gas chambers. Others gave her the chance to escape the Ghetto, but she could not leave the children. Edelman comments, that her sacrifice was greater than Dr. Korzak’s – because he was an old man and she a young woman.

Pola Lifszyc was a life puppeteer, who entertained 300 children twice a week, making them happy, transporting them into another world. But Pola was worried about her very sick mother. Her boyfriend Janek, who had a rickshaw, was with her, when she learned, that her mother had been taken to the “Collection Point”. She asked Janek to take her there, and he watched helplessly, as she jumped from the rickshaw and joined her mother entering the wagon.

Edelman was not just a bystander: he watched the deportations, and tried to save friends, which he dragged out of lines into the back windows of the hospital. One day, he was looking for his friend Zoria, whom had saved already three times. But on this particular day, a woman with diamonds, asked him, to save her daughter. “I was tempted, because the diamonds meant, that I could save more people”. But Edelman decided against it, and waited for Zoria – but he failed to save her his time.

There was love in the Ghetto is heart breaking, because there are no happy endings. And we can imagine Edelman staying at the gate of the “Collection Point” to wait for friends he would try to save. The three levels work very well together: particularly the re-enactments in the contemporary Ghetto hit very much home: it could happen today. AS

Screening at  KINOTEKA | The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

All For My Mother (2019) **** Kinoteka 2020

Dir: Małgorzata Imielska | Cast: Zofia Domalik, Maria Sobocińska, Malwina Laska, Adam Cywka, Dobromir Dymecki; Poland 2019, 104 min.

After repeatedly escaping from her orphanage, 17-year-old Olka (Zofia Domalik) is moved to a youth detention centre. With bitten fingernails and scarred arms, the teenager has no desire to ingratiate herself with the guards, like the other girls. She just wants to trace her mother.

All For My Mother – a probing exploration of our most visceral bond – won awards at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival and Warsaw Film Festival and will be screening at this year’s online Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, re-scheduled from March.

In her first feature him Imielska depicts a staggering brutal picture of Polish institutional life in hyper-realism that spares the audience nothing. Confined to a prison-like reform centre Olka’s only desire is to escape. She has been looking for her mother for years, and the endless search has become an obsession. Bullied by the other girls – particularly Agnes (Sobocinska), who calls Olka’s mother a whore – she also meets Mania (Laska), whose mother has killed her abusive father and is serving time. 

After another attempt at escape Olka is sent away to foster parents in the countryside. Irena (Budnik) and Andrzej (Budnik) are a dysfunctional couple constantly at war with each other. When Olka is in the barn feeding the rabbits, Andrzej attacks and rapes her brutally. She runs away, but Andrzej catches up with her promising to help her find her mother. But this is just a ploy, and the girl is subjecting to further abuse when the police arrive. 

Ola is completely disempowered by a system set up to help her and women like her. Eventually one of the therapists supports her case but Olka has given up hope and runs away again after the principal finally divulges her mother’s address in Szczecin. The search will be a grim and disheartening one, sending Olka to the depths of despair.   

This is a heart-breaking film to watch and viewers will be staggered by the seemingly lawless vacuum in Poland, where women are treated as fair game by men and institutions alike. DoP Tomasz Naumiuk pictures a bleak and post-industrial wasteland where the material poverty is on a par with the soulless behaviour of the authorities. An utterly compelling feature, which asks fundamental questions. AS

Showing as part of KINOTEKA – The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

Kinoteka (2020) Celebrating Polish Cinema | November 2020

KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival will be celebrating nearly a month of Police cinema in its new fully online programme for the 18th edition of the festival. Expanding on this year’s earlier postponed programme, the screenings roll out on 12 November with the gripping love triangle debut IRON BRIDGE from Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska. The celebration will continue to work with its partners at the Czech Centre and UK Jewish Film Festival through winter right  into next Spring.

NEW POLISH CINEMA Showcasing all that contemporary Polish cinema has to offer from Borys Lankosz’s smart genre blend of film noir and thriller DARK, ALMOST NIGHT to Jacek Borcuch’s complex moral drama DOLCE FINE GIORNATA which features a standout performance from Krystyna Janda that earned her the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival. Also featured are Małgorzata Imielska’s touchingly honest ALL FOR MY MOTHER and the family-friendly ROCK ‘N’ ROLL EDDIE.

12.11 | Iron Bridge | Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska

13.11 | Black Mercedes | Janusz Majewski| UK Jewish Festival in partnership with PCI

14.11 | Dark, Almost Night | Borys Lankosz

20.11 | Dolce Fine Giornata | Jacek Borcuch

21.11 – 24.11 | Charlatan | (Agnieszka Holland) In partnership with Made in Prague 2020 On/Off Festival & Czech Centre

27.11 | Mr Jones | Agnieszka Holland

28.11 | All For My Mother | Małgorzata Imielska

06.12 | Rock’n’Roll Eddie | Tomasz Szafrański 

DOCUMENTARIES EYE-OPENING STORIES FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE

Diverse, historical and contemporary portraits of Polish life are presented this year. Themes of  isolation in a seemingly all-connected world are explored in Pawel Ziemilski’s IN TOUCH, Japanese students’ struggle with learning the Polish language in Bobik Matiej’s OUR LITTLE POLAND and there is a bold account of the romantic intimacy amidst the tragedy of the Warsaw Ghetto with Jolanta Dylewska’s MAREK EDELMAN… AND THERE WAS LOVE IN THE GHETTO.

19.11 | Our Little Poland |Bobik Matiej

26.11 | Marek Edelman… And There Was Love In Ghetto | Jolanta Dylewska

03.12 | In Touch | Pawel Ziemilski

RETROSPECTIVES UNDISCOVERED MASTERS

A chance to discover subversive, satirical masterpieces afresh including Krzysztof Zanussi’s  subtle but fierce critique of Communist Party politics in CAMOUFLAGE, Marek Piwowski’s THE CRUISE which is widely regarded as Poland’s first ‘cult’ film and Wojciech Marczewski’s silver bear-winning film SHIVERS.

12.11 – 6.12 | Shivers | Wojciech Marczewski

12.11 – 6.12 | Camouflage | 1977 | Krzysztof Zanussi

12.11 – 6.12 | The Cruise | 1970 | Marek Piwowski

EXTENDED PROGRAMME

The festival’s extended programme takes in socially-distanced film screenings and events into the new year including MISTER T. from filmmaker Marcin Krzyształowicz, which elegantly mixes post-war politics, vodka and basement jazz in a beautifully photographed look at the absurdities of the communist state.

Venue TBC | Mister T (Marcin Krzyształowicz)

Venue TBC | Charlatan | (Agnieszka Holland) In partnership with Made in Prague 2020 On/Off Festival & Czech Centre

OFFICIAL TRAILER

 

Sweat (2020) CURZON

Dir: Magnus von Horn | Poland, Sweden | Drama 105′

Don’t judge a book by its cover is the message in this stylish Warsaw-set psychodrama from Swedish born, Polish trained director Magnus von Horn. And although the cult of celebrity has been tackled before, this fresh take on fitness, motivation and loneliness in the digital age of social-media driven obsession feels real, Magda Kolesnik making for a feisty feline fanatic as the film’s heroine. 

In today’s Warsaw she is Sylwia Zajac a physical trainer and healthy living guru with an instagram following as long as her beautifully sculpted legs. Shrewd, highly disciplined and committed to her fans, Sylwia is able to switch on a megawatt smile one moment turning a sympathetic ear to her trainees the next. We see her in face to face sessions encouraging and even hugging her clients who are ordinary women desperate to stay in shape and maintain their bodies in peak condition for those daily selfies. 

But what starts as a smalltime success story about a fitness guru and her avid followers soon develops into something more unsettling. Sweat serves as a showcase for what can happen to a beautiful woman, or any woman, in the public eye. And here von Horn weaves another strand into his topical storyline: that of male degeneracy – one character is a stalker, the other a brutal thug, and both are seen through the eyes of a straightforward professional woman who enjoys her career and celebrity status – perhaps a little bit too much – but would also like to find love and  intimacy in these days of social alienation and distancing.

Van Horn takes the case of Bjork’s stalker, Ricardo Lopez, as the inspiration for Sylwia’s prowler, who first appears as a ‘peeping tom’ watching her from the privacy of his car parked right near her swanky apartment block. It soon turns out this is Rysiek (Tomasz Orpiński) and although Sylwia asks him to move on, he refuses. Meanwhile Sylwia asks her a male friend Klaudiusz (Julian Swiezewski) to reason with Rysiek. But his intervention just leads to more complications. And not only that, he expects some kind of reward in return for helping her – and we’re not talking about money. The final scenes show Magda at her most human and vulnerable in this stinging snapshot of modern times with its sinister overtones that also explores narcissism, hero worship and body perfectionism. MT

NOW AT CURZON \ CANNES 2020 PREMIERE

 

In Touch (2018) *** Kinoteka

Dir.: Pawel Ziemilski; Documentary; Poland/Iceland 2018, 61 min.

Pawel Ziemilski finds an ingenious way to tackle the timely topic of distance relationships in a challenging new documentary which won the main prize at IDFA in 2108.

Since the 1980s, the Polish town of Stare Juchy (Old Blood) has seen its population dwindling with most of the young moving to Iceland, of all places. Desperate to stay in touch, those left behind resort to electronic methods of communication. And Skype seems to be the most popular. But it’s not as simple as it seems. Gradually a different modus vivendi takes hold as the emigres adapt to their new environment, become influenced by the change of language and social set-up. Most of them will never return.

But In Touch goes beyond a study of citizens chatting to relatives and friends on a screen. Ziemilski records images of the landscape in both locations and then literally projects the footage via electronic means onto a vast canvass, a sort of moving art installation that keeps the communities in touch with each other, and their environment – rather like google Earth on a grandiose scale. Ziemilski can even project absent family members into a life-size Easter meal, or show a distant daughter painting her mother’s nails in another country. A goalkeeper on the Polish pitch tries to save shots not only from the Icelandic strikers, but also from opponents elsewhere. Sounds amazing? But – and it is a big but – the whole concept fails to convince because we never find out exactly who we’re dealing with, or how they feels about the situation. Brief, subjective, person-related information would have been so much more effective than just pictures: Greta putting her Icelandic co-workers down, telling her friend in Stare Juchy that she went for a job interview at the airport, and hoping she’ll get the job “since only Icelandic girls seem to be working there”.  

The sheer variety of these visual devices is extremely impressive, opening up new ways of enabling interaction by reconfiguring the conception of spaces, and exploring the topic in formally imaginative ways. But the concept is undermined by the plethora of sub-approaches, which often reduces the outcome as pure gimmickry.

All very imaginative in theory, but the human interaction feels impersonal and lacks real  intimacy. In Touch would work far better in the formal confines of an art gallery where visitors could drift in and out. As a cinematic experience it is often too limited by its formalism, which strangles the human touch. AS

Showing 24 March @ 8.30pm at the ICA as part of KINOTEKA | The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

  

Possession (1981) ****

Dir: Andrzej Zulawski  | Cast: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Margit Castensen, Heinz Bennent, Johanna Hofer | 124min  | Horror Drama  | Poland France West Germany

possession_2116In the opening scene of Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION, Isabelle Adjani (Anna) meets Sam Neill (Mark) outside their Berlin apartment block, on his return from a business trip – she appears to be dressed in mourning. It then emerges she wants a divorce, and the two of them descend rapidly into a frazzled state of anxiety – Mark rocking to and fro in a cold sweat and Anna sobbing down the telephone from her new lover’s place. Mark (a self-confessed misogynist) seems less concerned about the divorce, but is eaten up with jealousy that Anna is having sex with another man – and enjoying it. Confronting her lover Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) in his spacious book-filled apartment, Mark is understandably indignant. Heinrich is dressed like a flamenco dancer; black shirt slashed to his ageing midriff. Embracing Mark, he appeals to his sense of fair-play in understanding their mutual state of flux.

Initially banned in the UK; this is the Russian-born Polish film director’s most controversial film. Many claim to be shocked and traumatised by it; others to find it a total enigma, even a laughable mess. Certainly it gives full throttle to the full-blooded emotional fall-out when a relationship goes wrong – but this is not social realism; it is mannered horror. Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress at Cannes for her histrionic, ‘obsessive compulsive’ performance – which involves an electric carving knife – and Neill is also at his most viscerally raw, switching from demonic anger to childlike vulnerability (his eyes are especially weird – an effect achieved by coloured contact lenses), as he pleads with Anna to share her feelings so he can work to make it right. Meanwhile he is also trying to negotiate a deal with his employers and look after his infant son Bob.

Filmed by ace DoP Bruno Nuytten (Jean de Florette) in the frigid blue light of a rained-soaked Berlin winter in Kreuzberg and Mitte’s empty streets, there are unsettling vignettes where Anna is at one point pursued by a government official who asks to check the windows of the apartment where she is now living (having left Mark). In this apartment, she has produced – or apparently given birth to – a strange octopus-like blob of gore, that masquerades as a gigantic living foetus. When the inspector discovers it, she glasses him in the neck with a broken bottle of red wine, having previously offered him a drink. In another she plays Helen, a teacher from Bob’s school, and turns up unannounced to read to Bob and do the washing up for Mark: the two end up in bed. The dialogue is often dead pan and banal compared with the heightened melodrama that accompanies it – after trashing Mark’s living room in a blind rage Anna announces blandly: “I have to give Bob his yogourt”.

Admittedly, the film is a carnival of sensationalism, yet we feel nothing for the characters nor their trauma as their feelings are completely unconvincing – they are merely the psychotic and narcissistic projections of sociopathic cyphers, totally lacking in authenticity or a scintilla of humanity. Although Zulawski attempts to generate horror, as an audience we feel entirely alienated and detached from the narrative, however gory, blood-soaked or deranged it becomes. A fantastic curio and the perfect antidote to romantic Valentine’s Day. MT

LEXI CINEMA | KENSAL RISE OVERGROUND | FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020

 

My Friend the Polish Girl (2018) ***

Dir.: Ewa Banasziewicz, Mateusz Dymek; Cast: Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Feldman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Max Davies; UK 2018, 87 min.

Ewa Banasziewicz and Mateusz Dymek have directed written and produced this sometimes uneven cinema verite style mockumentary that explores whether the documentary form can ever be objective: or does the filmmaker always influence the outcome with their own subjectivity? Shot mostly in black-and-white by Dymek, with enchanting animation by Mathieu Rok, My Friend is aesthetically much more convincing than its sometimes questionable narrative.

New York filmmaker Katie (Friedman-Cohen) lives in London where she picks the Polish actor, thirty-something Alicja (Piotrowska), as the central focus for her Brexit-themed documentary. But nothing goes to plan: first of all Alicja, (who is living with her boyfriend (Barry) in the Edgware Road), tells Katie that he is suffering from terminal cancer. Michael then denies the gravity of his illness and moves out, not wanting to be filmed by a very intrusive Katie. The two women have not always got on together so Katie decides “to change” Alicja’s life, by introducing her to a group of filmmakers at the Groucho Club. Alicja is going to play a Russian prostitute (her seventh casting in this role), and shooting is due to commence, but when it does, Michael’s condition worsens with Alicja trying in vain to stop the cancer by buying expensive alternative medicines from a Harley Street doctor. To no avail, he dies and at the rather embarrassing wake for Michael, she meets his friend Max (Davies), who stays the night. By now, Katie has moved in with her girlfriend, both declaring they are misfits. But when Alicja is suddenly fired from the film set, she also runs away from Katie who is forced to use a false ending (Alicja’s suicide) to finish her film. 

Despite their best intentions the portrayal of the complicated relationship between documentary filmmakers and their subjects sometimes falls victim to rather bad taste, such as in the faux-sex scene between the two women in Alicja’s bedroom. But the female leads are so convincing in portraying their obsessive relationship they somehow manage to overcome this setback. Overall, My Friend is a brave attempt to discuss the essence of documentary filmmaking, and, in spite of everything, it is a very worthwhile watch. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Fugue | Fuga (2018) Kinoteka 2021

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. In Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also  plays the lead role of Kinga, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers another convoluted and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion.

Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

KINOTEKA 2021 | Premiered during UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

Ether | Eter (2018) **** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Krzysztof Zanussi | Cast: Jacek Poniedzialek, Zsolt Laszlo, Andrzej Chyra, Ostap Vakulyuk, Maria Ryaboshapka, Stanislav Kolokolnikov, Malgorzata Pritulak, Rafal Mohr, Victoria Zinny

Krzysztof  Zanussi dissects a sinister episode from early 20th century medical history in this gripping, classically-styled drama that sees a disgraced doctor (Jacek Poniedzialek) abusing science to gain control.

The theme is topical enough, that of dumbing down and confusing the population while the major powers take control. Since the era of communism, the ‘Polish Great’ directors have been well-versed in couching their political messages in subtle ways, as here in this rather genteel arthouse drama stylishly photographed by DP Piotr Niemyjski, whose lighting gives ethereal touches in just the right places.

The opening scene explores in detail Hans Memling’s 1467 tryptich ‘The Last Judgment” hinting at the haunting religious undercurrent to the storyline. But the main narrative focuses on the debonair doctor who is running a series of experiments with ether, a safer anaesthetic replacement to the drug, chloroform. During the process he decides to casually rape his female patient after knocking her out with the new-fangled substance. Leaving her for dead, he escapes but is captured, arrested and eventually committed to exile in Siberia, whence he takes up a post for the military on the border of the Ukraine and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Poniedzialek plays his role with icy detachment and deadly dedication showing how nothing will stand in the way of his scientific research. Clothed in either white overalls or black leather with gloves to match, he cuts a sinister figure in this remote backwater, pushing his patients beyond their pain thresholds with his new drug, far from the prying eyes of decency. All this to the tune of Wagner’s opera Parsifal, as the doctor hunts for his own holy grail.

This doctor is a entirely focused on his methods for domination. An ascetic, detached character he clearly has a God complex subjecting his patients to pain and bewilderment, mirroring the atrocities of the First World War (that was on its way). The doctor here is in complete contrast to the dedicated medic in Aleksey Balabanov’s Morphine (2008) who was using a drug to bring relief to the agony of his patients 150 miles north of Moscow, during the Bolshevik revolution. Our Polish doctor also makes use of the services of a poor devout Catholic boy called Taras (Ostap Vakulyuk) who gives up his father’s corpse for medical science then discovers him later embalmed in the doctor’s museum.

Some of the scenes are deeply disturbing. In one the doctor delivers a tiny crying baby only to smother it minutes later, telling the mother it would have died anyway. In another, he injects a soldier with a substance that makes him a fierce and fearless fighter, biting his wrestling components, until the doctor calls for a straight-jacket.

The final scenes comes with an explanation: “The Secret Story” that tracks back to the religious aspects of the story and introduces a previously low-key figure who appears to be the grim reaper himself. Ether ends in the rain-soaked mud of WWI where Zanussi examines the question “Does suffering have a meaning?”. Clearly the doctor has made a pact with God but has lost his soul in the meantime. MT

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 4 -18 APRIL 2019

 

Silent Star | First Spacecraft on Venus (1960) **** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

Dir. Kurt Maetzig; Cast: Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe, Michael Postnikow, Kurt Rackelmann, Günter Simon, Hua-Ta Tang, Lucyna Winnicka; East Germany/Poland 1960, 93 min.

In many ways SILENT STAR is a cult classic oddity. East German director Kurt Maetzig had had his career put on hold due to his Jewish background. The Rabbit is Me (1965) was seen as too critical of the socialist East German leadership and was banned along with ten other films considered equally “subversive”. Classified as the “Rabbit Films” they were greeted with avid applause on their re-release in 1989, at the end of the Cold War. In 1954 Maetzig had also directed the lauded two-part biopic Ernst Thaelmann, about the German communist leader murdered in a concentration camp. He was eventually allowed to continue making films again, but some of the other directors were relegated to TV. Maetzig died in 2012, at the age of 101.

Many of the East German feature films were also considered rather tedious – people wanted to watch Hollywood blockbusters – although the mostly black-and-white political films did find an audience with intellectuals in the West. First Spacecraft, or The Silent Star, to give it the translated title of the US version, suffered the same fate. Popular in all Eastern block countries, particularly the GDR, were it was watched by over four million people, it was shunned in the West as a “populist melodrama in the Hollywood style”.

Set in the “future” of 1985, an artificial ‘spool’ is discovered in the Gobi-desert. Aeronautics Professor Hawling (Oldrich Lukes) deems it originated in Venus. And Professors Sikarna (Yoko Tani) and Dr. Tchen-Yu (Hua- Ta Tang) come to the conclusion that it’s a flight recorder. But failing to make contact with Venus, they decide to use the Soviet spaceship ‘Cosmostrator’ to fly to the planet and investigate. During the journey Sikarna attempts to translate the text. The rather cold-blooded message turns out to be a declaration of war: the inhabitants of Venus had been trying to colonise earth, and exterminate the human race. A model toy computer, rather like R2/D2 from Star Wars, then turns vicious, attacking German pilot Brinkmann (Simon); his spacecraft lands on Venus, finding no form of life, but a totally destroyed city in a huge crater. One of the scientists triggers the still-functioning computer, programmed to destroy Earth and mayhem ensues.

PDs Alfred Hirschmeier and L. Kunka must take most of the credit for this terrific Sci-fi adventure, along with  composer Andrzej Markowski and DoP Joachim Heisler. Obviously it looks dates in today’s eyes, but no more so that some other US Space outings of the era. But Stanislaw Lem, author of the novel on which co-writer Maetzig based his script, was not impressed, and claimed: “not even children would be frightened by this film”. AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4-18 APRIL 2019

Monument (2018) *** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jagoda Szelec; Cast: Dorota Lukasiewicz, Paulina Lasot, Karolina Bruchnicka, Jacub Gola; Poland 2018, 108 min.

Director/writer Jagoda Szelek (Tower: A bright Day) casts students from the famous Lodz Film School in her sophomore feature, a non-narrative exercise in power and human misery. The ritualistic nature of Monument shines a light on how we chose to remember the past.

Twenty young people have high hopes about embarking on their internship in the hotel business. But before the programme kicks off, one of them has already gone missing. The draconian manager takes a nonchalant approach and hands round their name identification badges: there are ten Pawels and nine Anias. “The customers are not interested in your names, they want to enjoy themselves”, the manager retorts sternly, when asked for a reason.

The job is pretty dreary. The film becomes a study in surreal depersonalisation. The women have to clean the rooms, and the toilets. Moral is low – apart from one young man, who tries to ingratiate himself with the nameless manager, who acquires the nickname “witch’ from his fellow interns. Even though he is rude about them behind their backs, the manager is unimpressed, humiliating him in front of an ‘Ania’, who comes up with good plan to re-organise the work schedule. The women talk about their childhoods, particularly about their relationships with their mothers; while the boys tell each other rather unfunny jokes and fight. Two of them have sex. The place is falling apart, rats run wild down in the cellar, and one of the women faints. In this enigmatic endeavour times seems to stand still. It is never made clear if the missing young man is the only survivor of a fatal bus crash, or if the other have entered a ‘Huis Clos’ a in Sartre’s play. But their relationships are strained, they only unite in hating the “witch”. The final ritualistic dance is a strange exercise in exorcism.

DoP Przemyslaw Brynkiewicz’s black and white images are stunning: the realistic environment of the hotel, the suites, kitchen and laundry are in total contrast to the dark cellar, the moody atmosphere of the rubbish bins and the gloomy, foreboding cellar, where rats scuffle around unaware of the human denizens. But in spite of the overlaying realism of these task-bound interns, there are echoes of The Shining as the past meets the present. Szelec has certainly made a singularly unique feature, which does not need to be categorised to be watched with admiration and a certain awe. AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4 -18 APRIL 2019  

   

Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowyck (2018)

Dir: Kuba Mikurda | Wri: Marcin Kubawski, Kuba Mikurda |

Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk by debut documentarian and academic Kuba Mikurda explores the career of the Polish controversial cult filmmaker who rose to international recognition during the 1970s with his erotic arthouse fare. A brilliant opening sees Borowczyk accused of being “a complete pervert” by his French interviewer. His smart rejoinder is that everyone indulges in subversive thoughts but he gives them life in his films.

Mikurda captures the Avantgarde weirdness of it all by patching together clips from the Polish surrealist’s films interpolated by the emotive musings from other filmmaking luminaries – the late Andrzej Wajda, Terry Gilliam, Patrice Leconte, Slavoj Zizek, Neil Jordan, Bertrand Bonello and Mark Cousins are overlaid by pithy quotes and comments made by Mr B himself who is now considered one of the 20th century’s most significant animators and auteurs. Several call him naive: Lisbeth Hummel (who appeared in The Beast) and Cherry Porter who also claims he became less lyrical about women in his later years. British critic Peter Bradshaw admits to being totally bemused by his stuff as a teenager back in the 1970s, but also confesses they were very male films: men were both the filmmakers, and the consumers – well done Peter!.

The cult classic clips include many of the maverick filmmaker’s best known features and Mikurda and his writer Kubawski divide these into chapters devoted to Goto, Island of Love (1968), Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975), accompanied by Stefan Wesolowski’s fricative occasional score, which gives the piece a scattergun rhythm.

And although they all have a great deal of interesting observations to make, the talking heads take up the lion’s share of the film rather than the great man himself who remains an enigmatic figure, although open-faced and amiable enough, speaking perfect French in a TV interview back in 1984. We learn nothing of his early life in Poland and the relationships that shaped him and his self-imposed exile from his homeland?. This background could have informed his delicately drawn erotic films with their distinct cultural and historical flavour.

Naturally the segment on Sylvia Kristel and Emmanuelle V (1986) gets a great deal of screen time with worthwhile input from the film’s co-director Thierry Bazin (who claims Mr B only ate potatoes during their daily lunches together). But this feature also marked his gradual decline, dealt with rather abruptly as the doc runs out of steam.

So Mikurda’s debut is a welcome attempt to shed light on the intriguing world of Walerian Borowczyk leaving ample room for more insight, particularly from a female point of view. MT

NEW EUROPE FILM SALES

 

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski will be in London to celebrate this year’s Kinoteka Polish film festival. Joining him are veteran Polish auteur KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI with his latest film Ether, a spotlight of female filmmakers and a special Sci-fi retro strand featuring cult classic gems from STANISŁAW LEM.

Another highlight will be the latest film from maverick wild child Andrzej ŻuławskiOn the Silver Globe. The festival will also showcase the work of legendary cinematographer WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI and a documentary exploring the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk

OPENING NIGHT GALA at Regent Street Cinema with a screening of ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, a beautifully animated adaptation of acclaimed Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s early book. 

CLOSING NIGHT GALA – Another chance to enjoy Pawel Pawlikoski’s Oscar-nominated COLD WAR’. The charismatic director will be there to present his film. The event is  followed by a dinner with live music from Zbigniew Namyslowski, former collaborator of the legendary film composer Krzysztof Komeda (The Fearless Vampire Killers/Polanski) followed by a gourmet menu inspired by Polish folk cuisine. 

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

Female filmmakers from Poland get their own special side-bar this year at the BFI Southbank with Jagoda Szelc’s deeply unsettling psychological horror MONUMENT, Olga Chajdas’s award- winning LGBT romance NINA and the disorientating and acclaimed new film from director of THE LURE, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s FUGUE. 

RETROSPECTIVES 

Two SCI-FI  extravaganzas are on offer at this year’s festival: A major retrospective from one of the godfathers of modern sci-fi  STANISŁAW LEM  will take place at the Barbican. This includes the rare Russian television film SOLYARIS and the East German space opera SILENT STAR. The Quay Brothers also present their film MASK followed by a panel discussion about Lem’s legacy and the challenges of adapting his work to the screen. 

Andrzej Żuławski ON THE SILVER GLOBE – will screen at the Horse Hospital alongside an exhibition of costumes and ephemera from the film. Shut down by the Communist party in 1977 after 80% of the footage was shot, the film was luckily saved by the crew who ignored orders, and Żuławski’s fantastical creativity was preserved.

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI – The renowned auteur will be there to present his latest film ETHER and introduce his 1971 classic FAMILY LIFE.

WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI – the influential DoP’s work is celebrated at Close-Up Cinema with four archive screenings: Zanussi’s FAMILY LIFE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s HANDS UP!, THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM from director Wojciech Has and Andrzej Żulawski’s THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT.

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

Taking place at Regent Street Cinema, ICA and Watermans, the New Polish Cinema programme offers a selection of ten films encompassing the exciting breadth of contemporary Polish filmmaking – from the brutal realism of Piotr Domalewski’s SILENT NIGHT to Filip Bajon’s epic costume drama THE BUTLER via the hysterically funny situational humour of Paweł Maślona’s PANIC ATTACK.

DOCUMENTARIES 

The ICA’s festival documentary strand includes an intimate look at life’s final moments in END OF LIFE and an examination of the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk in LOVE EXPRESS: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WALERIAN BOROWCZYK.

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Barbican, BFI Southbank, Close Up Cinema, Frontline Club, ICA, Tate Modern, The Horse Hospital, Regent Street Cinema and Watermans Art Centre (Cambridge). 

 

Tribute to Claude Lanzmann (1925-2018)

Claude Lanzmann, who was born in Paris in 1925, died today in the city of his birth, aged 92. He will always be remembered for the ground-breaking undertaking of Shoah, which took twelve years (1974-1985) to finish; the reconstruction of the genocide, lasting 560 minutes, a unique, monumental achievement.

Born as the grandson of Russian Jews who fled the pogroms, his upbringing was marred by the unhappy marriage of his parents: when Claude was nine, his mother Paulette left the family, which, ironically, came as a relief to her son: “I feared the marriage of my parents would end in suicide, or even murder”. His father, politically aware, taught his children survival techniques, which came in handy during the Nazi occupation of France. In 1943 Claude was sent to boarding school in Clermont-Ferrand, where he joined the Jeunesses Communistes and the resistance. In his autobiography Le Lievre de Patagonie (2009), he is quiet critical about himself, not having stood up enough for persecuted fellow students.

After the war he went to Tubingen in Germany where he met Nazi officers for the first time at the estate of the Von Neurath family, where he discovered a mini-concentration camp on the grounds. He went afterwards to teach in Berlin at the newly founded Free University. Lanzmann was unhappy about the lame De-Nazification process and he asked for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Reflexions sur la Question Juive to be read by his students. This led to him joining Sartre and De Beauvoir at the Paris offices of Les Temps Modernes later – whose editor he was since 2016. Between 1952 and 1957 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir “I am the only man with whom Simone lived a quasi-marital existence.”  Claude’s younger sister Evelyne, an actress, had a passionate relationship with Sartre, Lanzmann and de Beauvoir trying to keep matters secret. But after Evelyne’s suicide at the age of forty in 1967, the papers were full of accusations of Lanzmann, “having pimped out his sister to Sartre”. Whilst this might be a little harsh, the fact remains that Sartre was 22 years older than Evelyne, who took being left by him very hard – no wonder after the trauma of her childhood. In 1952 Lanzmann went for the first time to Israel, where he would start his career as a filmmaker in 1973 with Pourquoi Israel? Whilst taking a progressive stand on the Algerian question, signing the Manifesto of the 121 to end the war, Lanzmann always legitimised Israel’s right to keep the occupied territories. His documentary Tshal (1994) is full of praise for the Israeli Defence Forces, even though he admitted that the Palestinians should have their own country – later.

But the Holocaust dominated his output: of his nine features, five dealt with the subject: most interesting Sobibor October 1943, 4 pm, about the successful uprising in the death camp of the title. Then there is A Visitor from the Living (1999), in which Lanzmann interviews the Swiss Red Cross attache Maurice Rossell, who, after visiting the death camp of Theresienstadt late in the war, wrote a favourable report, praising the Nazis for their ‘generosity’. Lanzmann’s last feature, Four Sisters, dealing again with Holocaust survivors, was premiered the day before his death. He was adamant, that Shoah was not a documentary: “The word makes me want to take a pistol and shoot”.AS

 

Reflections in the Dust (2018) ***

Dir.: Luke Sullivan; Cast: Sarah Houbolt, Robin Royce Queere, Aldo Fedalo, Ali Aitken; Australia 2018, 75 min.

Young Australian director/writer Luke Sullivan (You’re Not Thinking Straight) really pushes the boundaries out in this ominous post-aplocalyptic tale that combines elements of documentary and fiction by doing away with a conventional narrative, and casting a severely sight-impaired actress Sarah Houbolt, who is suffering from Hallermann/Steiff syndrome, in the lead role. And he succeeds. REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST breathes through claustrophobic, vivid imagery accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack.

In this tragic portrait of loneliness, we first meet Freckles (Houbolt) muttering ‘I don’t believe in love because I’ve never seen it’ to a faceless interviewer in the opening moments of the film. She ekes out an existence with her father who is an ageing paranoid schizophrenic clown (Queere) near a lakeside swamp, where the  act out a father daughter relationship, scavenging for food from washed up detritus. The clown oscillates between tenderness and aggression towards Freckles, who often blackens her face with shoe polish, and plays with an action man toy who she talks to like a child. One day she meets a moustachioed stranger in a beret, who reveals that her ‘Mom’ died in a circus accident, but the clown becomes aggressive towards the man and tells him to: “Go back! You are mad”. And later when a gypsy woman (Aitken) brushes Freckles’ hair lovingly, the clown sinks into a catatonic stupor, as he loses his adopted identity, acting out in bizarre ways: swinging a hammer, biting a tree and licking its bark. As fear, paranoia and anger consume these lost souls, the film sporadically switches between this fictional world and increasingly traumatic real-life interviews, until it reaches a shocking conclusion.

 It would be too easy to compare Reflections to a Beckett play or a drama by Tarkovsky, but Sullivan’s docu-drama is unique. This is total dystopia where everything is reduced to its lowest common denominator. The central characters play out base identities in re-enacting family life – symbolically, the few pieces of simple furniture slowly sink into the swamp.

DoP Ryan Barry-Cotter uses very little light for his grainy black-and-white images, and it comes as a shock when garish colour images occasionally flood the screen for a few seconds. But what really stands out is Houbolt’s tour de force that conveys the anguish of person lost in a world of voices and vague images. The ex-paralympian swimmer is simply stunning in her expressionist angst, in a performance that will resonate for a for a very long time.

Director Luke Sullivan is at the forefront of the next generation of Australian filmmakers. At a remarkably young age, he is now in the company of renowned Australian directors including Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) and David Michôd (The Rover) who have previously screened at Karlovy Vary. MT

World premiere at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018 | IMAGINA 

The Structure of Crystal | Struktura Krysztalu (1969) | Kinoteka 2018

Dir.: Krzysztof Zanussi; Cast: Barbara Wrzesinska, Jan Myslowicz, Andrzej Zarnecki; Poland 1969, 75 min.

In his feature debut, Polish veteran Krzysztof Zanussi examines the nature of friendship and male rivalry and explores whether a bond of shared history can still reunite us years later, or whether change and the passage of time is destined to drive us apart. The Structure of Crystal is an caustic psychodrama that has been compared to the work of Bresson, a filmmaker Zanussi very much admires.

Jan (Myslowicz) is a highly regarded chemist who has left the fast lane and competitive life of Warsaw behind to marry a local schoolteacher and earth mother, Anna (Wrzesinska) in a country village. Anna’s remote family home provides an idyllic retreat for the couple and their two children and for a time life is good. Until they invite another chemist and former colleague, Marek (Zarnecki), to stay. Marek has worked in the USA, and his photos of New York provide a bracing contrast to the couple’s placid rural existence. But the two men are soon arguing over work issues and Anna is a little bit too flirty with this man from ‘the big smoke’, although she also complains about the men’s “egoistical” attitude. Jan starts to come over as a martyr, trying to justify his country existence on environmental grounds, over his life in Warsaw. He tries to undermine  his rather racy city colleague taking the moral high ground– the usual male rivalry is played out but Jan is unsure whether he’s made the right choice. Zanussi, who studied chemistry himself (“I loved chemistry, but it did not love me”) was a documentary filmmaker before he turned his talents to filmmaking and this is borne out in DoP Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz’s long panning shots that circle the protagonists, showing them as objects in the domestic environment – the human interaction intruding upon the peaceful, balanced rhythm of the setting. A reflective and humane ‘Kammerspiel’. AS

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | LONDON

Bestia (1917) ** | Kinoteka London 2018

Writer-Director Aleksander Hertz | Cast: Pola Negri, Witold Kuncewicz, Jan Pawłowski, Maria Dulęba, Mia Mara. Melodrama | Poland / 67 min (incomplete)

Aleksander Hertz’s Bestia was one of the last of several films made by his company Sfinks starring his protégé Pola Negri under her real name Apolonia Chałupiec before she left for Germany in 1917, and, alas, the only one still surviving. Released in America in 1921 and slightly re-edited as The Polish Dancer to herald Negri’s arrival in Hollywood after making her name internationally in the German films of Ernst Lubitsch; it is to this version that Bestia owes its survival, and this was the version screened at Ognisko Polskie in partnership with this year’s Kinoteka Polish Film Festival.

Although popular playing A Woman of the World, (which became the title of one of her Hollywood vehicles), Negri in The Beast (to give it it’s literal title in English) proves far more sinned against than sinning; her choice of male company having done her no favours.

Bestia starts well with Miss Negri staying out late carousing with a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells (showing that Polish youth were as interested in the same things a hundred years ago as they remain today), and before long she has the world (and various men) at her feet as a raunchy cabaret dancer. Unfortunately she falls for a spineless stage door Johnny named Alexi, who neglects to inform her that he’s married, while the film’s emphasis shifts from Negri to Alexi’s dithering over whether or not to leave his wife. Negri’s honorable decision to reimburse money she’d earlier borrowed without permission from an oaf called Dimitri meanwhile seriously rebounds on her to her cost and it all ends in tears, with retribution meted out that bears little relation to the sins actually committed. RICHARD CHATTEN

KINOTEKA LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018

Butterfly Kisses (2017) **** Kinoteka Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Rafael Kapelinski; Cast: Theo Stevenson, Rosie Day, Liam Whitling, Byron Lyons, Thomas Turgoose, Charlotte Beaumont; UK 2017, 89 min.

Polish born director Rafael Kapelinski, who studied with Andrei Wajda in Lodz and got an MA from the NFTS, has directed a disturbing, haunting debut feature, which in many ways – not least due to Nick Cooke’s brilliant black-and-white images DoP Nick Cooke – resembles Michael Winterbottom’s first feature Butterfly Kiss from 1995.

Written by Greer Ellison, Butterfly Kisses is set in a South London estate where the three main characters, teenagers Jake (Stevenson), Kyle (Whiting) and Jared (Lyons), spend their days aimlessly gorging on internet porn and in a bar run by Shrek (Turgoose), which has an in-house drug dealer. This is mainly about showing off to each other, and, like a couple after 40 years of marriage, scoring points. Fathers are absent in the army, or literally dying. But Jake is worse off, because his friends know that he is still a virgin – the only one of the trio – in spite of his rather pretty good looks. When Zara (Day) moves into the tower block, Jake, ogling her from his window, gets a part-time job looking after her much younger sister Amy (Beaumont). After Kyle and Jared talk Zara into sleeping with Jake, we learn his dark secret: From here on onwards, Butterfly Kisses steams like a derailed train into oblivion.

Saving us from any graphic horrors, Kapelinski makes watching this even more painful. Nathan Klein’s score relies heavily on the organ, underlining the apocalyptic narrative. A voice-over by Kyle at the start of the feature, tells us about a day in school, when everyone put an anonymous confession  into a box, the contents were then read out aloud, each not knowing who had written what. Stealing Mars bars from the old owner of the corner shop seemed just like the internet porn – a mild transgression compared with Jake’s dark secret. Butterfly Kisses shows us that the clichés of life on council estates, are just the fruits of juvenile neglect – not the true evil lurking behind Jake’s boyish features. AS

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 29 MARCH 2018

Kinoteka 2018 | 7 – 29 March 2018

London hosts KINOTEKA Film Festival for the 16th year running. This year celebrates 100 years of Polish independence with the latest cutting edge cinema and some lesser known archival gems now ripe for rediscovery, along with Q&As, masterclasses and musical entertainment. The festival also offers unique insight into Poland’s rich cultural history through cult classics, biopics, women in cinema and a drama from the liberated Nazi concentration camps. And some distinctly contemporary drama that captures the zeitgeist of Poland in the 21st century such as Rafael Kapelinski’s 2017 scabrously dark drama Butterfly Kisses.

The Opening Night Gala commemorates the life of Krzysztof Krauze and his fruitful partnership with wife/co-director, Joanna Kos-Krauze with a screening of Karlovy Vary Award-winning Birds Are Singing in Kigali, a film exploring the life of two women who escape the genocide in Rwanda. There will also be a another chance to see her 2013 biopic drama Papusza that follows the rise and fall of gypsy-poetess Bronislawa Wajs, widely known as Papusza. And Urszula Antoniak’s award-winning drama Beyond Words.

NEW POLISH CINEMA IS A WOMAN:

This year’s contemporary strand has a particularly focus on female directors. Anna Jadowska’s Wild Roses depicts a mother’s loneliness and struggle to come to terms with her life. Kasia Adamik’s Amok follows the true story of a committed murderer who incriminates himself by writing a novel revealing the killing. There will also be a chance to see the UK premiere of Maria Sadowska’s biopic Sztuka Kochania about the Polish sexologist Michalina Wislocka, who wrote the bestseller The Art of Loving – the first published guide to sexual health from behind the Iron Curtain.

#PL100INDEPENDENCE

This strand offers an opportunity to delve into the archives for some cult classic dramas, comedies and rare Polish silent films. Aleksander Hertz’s Bestia (1917) stars Pola Negri as a wild girl who escapes her parents’ clutches only attract the attentions of a married manJan Nowina-Przbylski’s black and white comedy Love Manoeuvres (1935) sees a couple desperate to get out of an arranged marriage, in a fitting double bill with Juliusz Gardan’s cross-dressing comedy Is Lucyna A Girl? (1934) about a young woman who defies social norms to become an engineer. The celebration will also include an immersive 1920s style ballroom party, featuring special cocktails and a DJ.

CELEBRATING JEWISH-POLISH CINEMA

This year’s festival showcases the rich contribution of Jewish talent in Polish cinema. Kinoteka joins forces with Polish National Center for Jewish Film, to screen a 1937 Yiddish film (Der Purimshpiler) The Jester. The Southern Polish interwar story follows a troubadour who who arrives  in a small village where he upsets the status quo by falling for his new employer’s daughter. Wartime is also the central theme in The Reconciliation, Maciej Sobieszczański’s post-war drama set against the backdrop of the recently liberated Nazi concentration camps that were then used by the Communist party to imprison and eliminate traitors.

Krzysztof Zanussi will be back again this year ‘in conversation’ about one of his earliest films, The Structure of Crystal (1969) (17 March, ICA). Andrzej Klimowski, one of Polish most celebrated graphic designers will be in town for a masterclass aimed at new and emerging filmmakers looking to create poster artwork. He designed this year’s festival poster.

SUPPER CLUB CINEMA

On 23 March, Kinoteka hosts a gourmet evening featuring the delicious cuisine of rising chef Flavia Borawska, accompanied by a film screening of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s classic Double Life of Veronique.

Closing Night Gala – Henryk Szaro’s epic love story The Call of the Sea (1927) has been digitally restored and will play with a specially-commissioned live score performed by a five-piece ensemble led by pianist and composer Taz Modi, at the Barbican.

FESTIVAL GUESTS 

Jakub Gierszał (TBC)

The leading man in three films in this years’ New Polish Cinema segment. In 2012, he won the EFP Shooting Star prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and since then has worked steadily in both Poland and abroad.

Joanna Kos-Krauze

With only four director and writer’s credits in her dossier, Kos-Krauze is already one of the most talked about Polish filmmakers working today. She tells truthful stories about times gone by and people who made a small but culturally significant impact. Kos-Krauze will introduce Papusza (2013) and take part in a Q&A following a screening of My Nikifor (2004) at BFI Southbank on Thursday 8 March.

Maria Sadowska

Director, writer and actress, Sadowska is a triple threat in the industry today. Her latest film, The Art of Loving will be screened at Regent Street Cinema on 11th March. The Story of Michalina Wisłocka (2017) was nominated for a Golden Frog and Golden Lion at the Camerimage and Polish Film Festivals respectively.

Krzysztof Zanussi

Director, writer and Polish film legend, Krzysztof Zanussi has been making films since he was nineteen years-old and now at seventy-eight he’s showing no signs of stopping. The director has eighty-one credits to his name so far, including Ether which he’s currently filming.

KINOTEKA 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018

The Last Stage | Ostatni etap (1948) Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

Director: Wanda Jakubowska | Scr: Wanda Jakubowska, Gerda Schneider | Cast: Tatjana Gorecka, Antonina Górecka, Barbara Drapinska, Aleksandra Śląska | Drama / Poland / 110 minutes

Wanda Jakubowska (1907-1998) and her scriptwriter Gerda Schneider were themselves both inmates of Auschwitz; and Jakubowska’s determination to remember what she was witnessing in order to make a film about it helped keep her alive. In the summer of 1947 she duly returned to Auschwitz to film the exteriors of ‘The Last Stage’, with former inmates among the supporting cast. (The fact that it was shot in summer already sets it apart from most other films set in the camps, which usually find winter more atmospheric). Much of the imagery of later reenactments like ‘Schindler’s List’ – including the famous orchestra – can be found here; while the fact that the events it reenacts were only a couple of years previously gives it an immediacy and visual authenticity no later reenactments could hope to match. (One tends to think of Auschwitz as just a collection of huts, but seeing the real thing in this film you realise how enormous it was).

‘The Last Stage’ is not strictly speaking about The Holocaust, but is more an anti-fascist document of the rape of Poland by its occupiers; and we actually see Polish women protesting at their incarceration and rough treatment on the grounds that they’re not Jewish. Jakubowksa herself was there because of her activity in the resistance, while the onscreen introduction lists the many different nationalities held in Auschwitz. We see Frenchwoman singing the Marseilleise and Russian women dancing to celebrate Stalingrad (although it is sobering to reflect that at this stage liberation will still be two very long years away); and one prominent character is a gypsy.

The Last StageJakubowska’s film is organised as an ensemble piece which flits from group to group, the most prominent character being Barbara Drapinska as Martha Weiss, a young Jewish woman whose ability to speak German result in her life being spared (for the time being) to function as an interpreter. The actress who actually heads the cast list is Tatjana Gorecka as Eugenia, a Russian doctor ultimately tortured to death for attempting to tell the truth to members of an international commission who visit the camp to observe the conditions. (The fact that outside observers were allowed into some of the camps, where they were successfully lied to about what was actually going on, remains little known).

The chimneys perpetually belching smoke are frequently remarked upon throughout the film; and although the actual mass extermination programme is not depicted there are harrowing scenes involving the murder of a baby and the withholding of medicine. The cruelty of the guards and the kapos is depicted as a routine matter and the camp administration as unimaginative jobsworths. But Jakubowska is more concerned with making an uplifting socialist tribute to comradeship in adversity than a recitation of Nazi atrocities. Everyone in ‘The Last Stage’ is an individual, even the administrators (who get a surprising amount of screen time). Despite the characters all speaking in their native languages, the cast are all Polish (some of those playing Germans obviously dubbed), and with their handsome Polish faces look far too healthy and well nourished to dispel memories of the damning newsreel footage of starved and broken human beings that shocked the world in 1945. Even Aleksandra Śląska as the camp overseer is ironically much prettier than any of the actual women guards we see in contemporary newsreels.

‘The Last Stage’ could only have been made with Russian approval (Stalin, apparently actually approved the script personally), the excellent photography is by a veteran Russian cameraman, Bentsion Monastyrsky, and the Red Army are portrayed as saviours. Although stills from ‘The Last Stage’ regularly appear in film histories, the film itself (along with the rest of postwar Polish cinema) is little seen today. That Jakubowska remained an ardant communist until the very end of her long life, as well as enthusiastically wedded to socialist realist aesthetics, led to her own work ironically being sidelined as “politically incorrect” in post-communist Poland. RICHARD CHATTEN

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017

Ashes and Diamonds | Popiol i Diament (1958) | Kinoteka 2017

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Poland | Wartime Drama | 103MIN

ASHES AND DIAMONDS is undoubtedly a film noir. Not only has Wajda borrowed the sinister shadows and the black and white aesthetic from the masters of the genre, but he has given the film a hero who is already as good as dead from the outset. Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his friend Andrzej are fighters for the Polish Home Army, which battled against the Germans for the Government in Exile in London. Now, on May 8th 1945, their new enemies are the Communists. The men receive an order to kill the party secretary Szczuka. But they fail, and kill two civilians instead. After spending the night with the bar maid Krystyna, Maciek shoots the party secretary the next day, and escapes with Andrzej on a lorry. They meet Drewnowski, a Communist functionary, who is working for Home Army, and warns the two. Maciek, who does not know that Drewnowski is on his side, runs away, is shot and dies on a rubbish dump.

The greatest irony is that Wajda’s interpretation of the film differs diametrical from the production studio ‘Kadr’ and indeed the whole Stalinist state apparatus, which obviously saw the two assassins as counter-revolutionaries, coming to an deserved end. For Wajda, and some of the cast and crew, the opposite was true. But even with a pro-communist interpretation, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is a deeply nihilistic film: even though the war is won, destruction is absolute, and the future looms grey and unwelcoming. The film was shot in a small town where nearly everybody knew each other. Nobody trusts their neighbours: be it for collaboration with the Germans, or the competition for a place in the new order – this is a fearful town. The fireworks, which celebrates the end of the war, and masks the shots fired by Maciek, is anything but a signal for peace. Dark and foreboding, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is not so much the final chapter of WWII, but the first skirmish of an occupation. AS

KINOTEKA 2017 | 4 APRIL 18.30 | BARBICAN

Happiness of the World | Szczescie Swiata (2016) | Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Michal Rosa | Cast: Karolina Gruszka, Dariusz Chojnacki, Agata Kulesza, Dorothea Segda, Andrzej Konopka, Krzysztof Stroinski | Poland 2016, 98 min

Best known for his Karlovy Vary winner Silence, Michal Rosa’s latest drama is set in the Southern Polish region of Silesia where the male occupants of a block of flats are obsessed by the charms of a beautiful Jewish woman. This is an enigmatic tragi-comedy that takes place in two parts: the first opens shortly before the outbreak of the Second World in the Summer of 1939, and the second, after the War is over.

IMG_3493Roza (Gruszka) is no femme fatale: she unwittingly becomes the focus of the sexual longings of her male neighbours; her only wish is to make men happy. The elderly neighbour downstairs hangs on her every word, when he is not tending to his orchids. He will later move into Roza’s flat, to be close to her in spirit. Then there is Rufin (Chojnacki), a mathematical genius, who works as a liftboy in a hotel, but has a very limited imagination: he tells everybody, including his wife Klara (Segda) and sons Emil and Kamil, that life is simple, just a question of ‘getting from A to B’. Later Kamil will have a fatal bike accident, and Klara will punish him forever. When he first sets eyes on Roza, who introduces him to dancing, he is positively enchanted to discover that you don’t always have to go from A to B to achieve success. Gertruda (Kulesza/IDA) keeps her family’s Jewish identity under wraps, along with that of her son Tomasz (Stroinski). But her husband Konrad (Konopka) has gone a step further: he lives and works in Germany, pretending to be of Aryan descent. His sister Gertruda is in a psychiatric hospital – and he has plans for her to be put to death: “The time has come, to decide who should live, and who is only a burden.” Tomasz is forbidden to speak Jiddish, but when he meets Roza, he suddenly remembers his identity, making his mother furious. After the invasion of Poland by the Germans, Roza is summoned to the Gestapo Office, but now none of the tenants want to help her – apart from a man living in the basement, who has written a famous (imagined) Baedeker guide, describing places all over the world he has never visited.

HAPPINESS OF THE WORLD is sometimes is too opaque for its own good, so just sit back and enjoy the madcap story with its endless twists and turns. Marcin Koszalka (The Red Spider) serves as the film’s DoP evoking a stunning world of sumptuous visual images where Katowice is one of the main characters, along with a brilliant ensemble cast. AS

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 17 MARCH UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017

Something Better to Come | Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Hanna Polak | Documentary | Denmark/Poland/Japan/Netherlands/USA 2014 | 98 min.

Filmed over 14 years, Hanna Polak’s portrait of survival in Europe’s largest junkyard, the Svalka, just 13 miles away from the Kremlin, is a sobering witness report of utter deprivation. What makes it even worse (and sometimes unbearable to watch) is that the majority of those living inside the guarded fenced-in area are children and teenagers, exploited by a Mafia who runs the hell-on-earth camp for profit.

Centred around Yula, who was ten when Polak (The Children of Leningradsky) starting filming, Something Better to Come, shows the daily struggle of those who are not only homeless but have to survive the harsh winters in make-shifts huts, whilst scrounging the rubbish heaps around them for something to sell to the Mafia overseers, who pay them with alcohol (often of the deadly moonshine variety) and substandard food.

Yula and her mother entered the junkyard camp after Yula’s father died. Since the flat was in his name, the two became homeless. Many others landed in this circle of hell because their estate blocks were demolished, making space for the building of more upmarket property. Yula’s mother is an alcoholic, like many others here. Survival rate is not very high, the lack of medical support one of the reasons.

When Yula got pregnant, she moved with her mother to live with her grandfather in his ramshackle house (which was still luxury compared with their Svalka ‘housing’). But the grandfather abused Yula physically, calling her a whore, and the women moved out before the birth of the child. In hospital, Yula decided to give up her baby for adoption – a sad, but rational decision. But somehow Yula got lucky: the authorities found a flat for her – the equivalent of winning the lottery. After all the misery, Polak ends on an uplifting note, with Yula, her partner and her week old baby daughter happy together in their flat.

This lucky exception should not deflect from the utter misery witnessed beforehand. This is straight out of Gorky (a quote from his ‘Depth’ opens the film), a pre-industrial hell. But the physical suffering is often outweighed by psychological trauma. Again and again we hear the children say, “I want to be treated like a human being”. It is heart-breaking to see them crawl through the dirt in their search for anything they can sell to their ‘guards’, and, sometimes being killed in the process when they get in the way of the bulldozers. On the radio, we hear Putin’s voice, virtually unknown in 2000, when he was elected first as president. Later he talks about the great progress made in Russia, where more and more children are born, showing how positive families in the country must be feeling.

Something Better to Come is an exceptional and unique documentary – directed, written and photographed by Polak, after she could not find anybody else to pick up the camera. The editing too was a lengthy process: many contacted were overwhelmed by the material, others promised to help, only to find better remunerated work in Hollywood. It is due Polak’s perseverance in raising awareness of this truly dreadful camp-of-no-hope, a real dystopian nightmare, right next to the seat of government of a major power in world politics. AS

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017

Playground |Plac zbaw (2016) | Kinoteka 2017

Dir: Bartosz M. Kowalski | Screenwriters: Bartosz M. Kowalski, Stanislaw Warwas

Cast: Michalina Swistun, Nicolas Przygoda, Przemek Balinski, Patryk Swiderski, Pawel Brandys, Anita Jancia-Prokopowicz, Pawel Karolak, Malgorzata Olczyk

88min | Thriller | Poland

From a country known for its strong family values and staunch Catholicism comes PLAYGROUND, the debut feature of Bartosz M Kowalski who slowly constructs a story so doom-laden and harrowing it will stay will you for a very long time. It brings to mind the tragedy of 3 year old toddler Jamie Bulger who disappeared from a Liverpool shopping centre in 1993, never to be seen again.

Kowalski’s minimal approach to his co-scripted and produced subject matter is laudable as he explores, in a rather ominous tone, the early days of summer for a couple of pubescent boys as they kick over the traces of dwindling boyhood in the final term at junior school. Impressively performed by a trio of newcomers, this brutally stark thriller throws up a number of question marks about the future of an underprivileged youth in Poland who have have clearly not benefited from the spoils of post EU enrichment, whilst growing up untrammeled by the stern regime of the post communist years, of which their parents still bear the legacy from their own upbringing. This regime inculcated discipline, commitment and obedience to their elders. And although the privations are still present, these youngsters are from the internet generation which has allowed them to access unsuitable material and resulted in a dumbed down and casual attitude to violence and pornography before their own moral compass has had a chance to healthily be set.

Szymek (Nicolas Pryzgoda) lives in a broken down apartment block and is part-time carer for his physically handicapped father who is spends his time listening to classical music in bed, causing the boy to punch him up in unbridled frustration. His schoolfriend Czarek (Przemek Balinski) lives nearby in a squalid tenement where he shares a bedroom with his much younger brother who cries all time. “He’s still a child, and so are you, only much older” chides his mother (a hagard and harried Malgorzata Olczyk). Meanwhile, his older brother jeers at him when asked for some spare cash. None of this justifies delinquency but a toxic dynamic develops when he gets together with his mate. We see them secretly taunting plump school girl Gabrysia, on account of her puppy fat, and she mistakes their attentions for romantic interest, led on by another girl in her form: Children can be so mean. Plucking up courage, Gabrysia asks Szymek to meet her in a remote farm-building with the idea of asking him for a date. But when he turns up with Czarek, the two humiliate her, recording the footage on mobiles until she runs away, driven to tears.

The final scenes take place in silence, apart from some distant chatter and ambient birdsong, as we see Czarek and Szymek walking a gleeful toddler out of a shopping-mall. Clearly they have tempted him away with the promise of sweets or a treat. Straining to make out what happens next is an eye-bleedingly horrific experience as the images blur and fade into the distance, but never seem to end. MT

KINOTEKA 2017 | 19 MARCH 15.00 | REGENT STREET CINEMA

Afterimage | Powidoki (2016) | Kinoteka Polish Film Festival

IMG_3487Dir.: Andrzej Wajda | Cast: Boguslaw Linda, Zofia Wichlacz, Bronislawa Zamachowska, Aleksandra Justa | Poland | 98 min.

Andrzej Wajda’s final film, an unsentimental bio-pic covering the last years of the avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski (1893-1952), is the opposite of a melancholic swansong: AFTERIMAGE is a vicious attack on Stalinist repression and censorship, filmed by a man still young at heart, who never gave up the fight against an inhuman dictatorship regime which perverted the idea of equality.

Despite losing a leg and an arm in active service during WWI, Strzemisnki (a magnificent turn by Linda) led a vibrant life, shown in the opening sequence, when he rolls down a grassy hill with his students of the State Higher School of Arts in Lodz, which he had founded in 1945. A popular lecturer, all his students stood by him when he was dismissed from his post in 1950 for refusing to submit to the doctrine of Socialist Realism. One of his students, Hania (Wichlacz), eventually fell in love with him, but was rebuffed by the artist, because he knew he was dying of tuberculosis. But there was still time for a family drama: Strzeminski had left his wife, the famous sculptor Katarzyna Kobro (Justa), whom he had married in 1920, and who lived with their young daughter Nika (Zamachowska – in a case of life copying art, Justa’s Kobra is Zamachowska’s real life mother). Despite the family’s creative talents, resources were tight. Zamachowska has an other-worldly screen presence: she stands out as a fearless and self-possessed child. particularly in the scene where she walks alone behind the coffin in her broken down shoes and only coat (which she turns inside out after chastisement from a passer-by for its bright colour). After Kobra’s death, Nika moves in with her father and tenderly cares for his needs while lecturing him to eat more and smoke less. But when Hania appears on the scene, on the crafty pretext of recording “The Theory of Vision” on a typewriter stolen from the Art School, Nika makes no bones about moving into the local childrens’ home, where at least she gets a free uniform and new footwear.

The bureaucratic authorities gave Strzeminski a final warning after he damaged a street banner bearing a picture of Stalin, because it cut out the natural from his studio window. It counted for nothing that the painter was the co-founder of the world-famous BLOK group in 1924, a loose association of Cubists, Constructivists and Suprematists, including Malevich (whose students Kobra and Strzeminski had been), as well as El Lissitzky. After Strzemisnki’s dismissal from the Higher Art School, two events followed: firstly, his students’ exhibition was destroyed by hooligans hired by the State Authorities; then came the enforced closure of the Neoplastic Room in the Museum in Lodz, which Strzemisnki had opened in 1948 (and included five Spatial Compositions by Kobro, who nevertheless was not invite to the opening). Further humiliation followed: he was thrown out of the Artists Union, barring him from buying any more painting materials. Since food was only obtainable on ration cards for the employed, his status as unemployed meant that he was reduced to starving. Although his students tried to find odd jobs for him, Hania even getting arrested,  Strzeminski’s body eventually gave up just after Christmas 1952. Whilst Wajda concentrates on the last years of Strzeminski’s life, there is certainly another story to be told: daughter Nika has published a memoir of her parents “Love, Art and Hatred” in 1991.

César-winning (The Pianist) DoP Pawel Edelman’s resplendent visual style records the hardship of the post-war years, and the bitter hounding of a great artist by a posse of petit-bourgeois functionaries, who hide behind their orders from above. The Stalinist regime robs everything from Strzemisnki: even his love for the cinema, which he leaves with his daughter, after having to watch an infuriating propaganda newsreel. An Afterimage is the visual impression that remains on the retina after viewing an image: what will be remembered from Andrzej Wajda’s work is not the narratives that cleverly navigate through Stalinist restrictions and bans, but the memory of his fight to record the truth behind the events in over fifty films that he made from the 1950s onwards. In AFTERIMAGE Wajda drives his last spear into the heart of the Stalinist monster. AS

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH TO 5 APRIL 2017

The Red Spider|Czerwony Pajak (2015) | Kinoteka 2017 | 17 March – 5 April

Dir/cine. Marcin Koszalka | Thriller | Poland |  Czech Republic | Slovak Republic | 2015 | 90 min.

With a quiver of macabre shorts and documentaries under his belt, Krakow-born filmmaker Marcin Koszalka is one of contemporary Poland’s most interesting talents and gathers around him an award-winning design crew.. Inspired by real events, his first fiction feature is a stylishly pristine and cryptic affair that delivers its sinuous storyline in a tightly-paced 90 minutes.

There are sinister things going on in communist Krakow in 1967. In a snowbound park, champion diver, medical student and dutiful son Karol Kremer discovers the multilated body of a teenage boy on his way home. In the shadows, lurks a man in a beret and Karol follows him home to discover he is the local vet, Lutek. The nightly news announces the 11th victim of a serial killer, a young boy. But Karol (Filip Plawiak) is hardly a straightforward chap himself and clearly a fantasist who becomes obsessed with the murders, visiting Lutek (Adam Woronowicz) with his ailing pet terrier (who he has pre-poisoned), and cross-examining him over the murders, which the vet doesn’t deny. Meanwhile, Karol is also conducting a slow-burning seduction of female photographer Danka who soon becomes the killer’s next victim in a frenzied hammer attack. Kremer is arrested as the prime suspect and bizarrely goes along with police inquiries, relishing the opportunity of becoming the centre of attention yet oblivious to the consequences.

More than just a film about serial killing, THE RED SPIDER is very much an evocative mood piece echoing unsettling political events of the time of widespread student protests with the government in disarray in the run-up to the Prague Spring in neighbouring Czechoslovakia. Koszalka’s immaculate camerawork echoes the chilly climate of sexual repression and uncertainty of the strictly Catholic country. Magdalena Dipont’s sets evoke the sleek minimalism of Sixties design in the interiors and street scenes. Although much of the narrative remains fairly enigmatic, Koszalka constructs a spider web of plausibilities that are not beyond reasonable doubt, and the froideur of perfectly-pitched performances adds allure to this his frigid thriller. MT

KINOTEKA 2017 | 17 MARCH 5 APRIL 2017

The Eccentrics: The Sunny Side of the Street (2015) | Kinoteka 2017

Dir: Janusz Majewski | Musical Drama | Poland | 112min

Janusz Majewski’s stylish musical drama sees a former soldier and jazz fan return to Poland after the Second World War where he forms a swing band striking a chord of optimism in dreary fifties Warsaw. The venture is a roaring success and soon Fabian (Maciej Stuhr) is dating Modesta (Natalia Rybicka), a beautiful and mysterious fellow musician who joins the players as a vocalist. Intoxicated by their newfound freedom and excited about the future, the two lovers are the talk of the town but Poland is changing as positive and negative influences from the West make their lives more complicated. Although slightly bogged down by its superfluous subplots, ECCENTRICS is well worth seeing for its exuberant jazz numbers sung in perfect tune by the leads (unlike the lovers in La La Land) and for its stunning period set design and costumes. MT

SUNDAY 26 MARCH 19.30 REGENT STREET CINEMA | KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Innocent Sorcerers | Niewinni Czarodzie (1960) | Kinoteka 2017

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Drama | Poland | 87min

In early 1960s Warsaw, Bazyl (Tadeusz Lomnicki) is a young doctor who plays in a jazz band. He is a dreamer, not really unhappy, but indolent. His fake blond hair is one of the reasons for his popularity with women, but he is unable to commit to a relationship. At work, where he looks after the boxers of a state run club, he is equally bored. Only music seems to keep him alive, but afterwards he hangs around in the pubs, waiting for something to happen. Bazyl’s friend Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski) hangs out with him during the long nights, hoping in vain to pick up one of Bazyl’s cast-offs. One evening, the two men set a trap for Edmund to get off with one of the girls, but the young Pelagia (Krystyna Stypolkowska) does not fall for it, and Bazyl – largely through boredom – spends the night with her. He leaves Pelagia the next morning, only to find her in his flat on his return: Bazlyl doesn’t want to acknowledge that he has fallen in love with her, neither does he want to show her any signs of affection. When she decides to leave, Bazyl lets her go against his better judgement.

Roman Polanski has a vignette in the film, playing bass. And although Wajda directed, the drama very much belongs to scripter, Jerzy Skolimowski’s; Bazyl being a prototype of Skolimowski’s hero in Walkover, who is like most of his protagonists, an outsider. INNOCENT SORCERERS is full of ironies and alienation. Bazyl and Edmund are running away from a society where they feel outsiders, but, equally, are not committed to anything else – they are directionless individuals, wasting their time. Hardly surprising, therefore, that Bazyl is no match for Pelagia, who looks through him from the start. Bazyl started out trying to manipulate Pelagia into Edmund’s arms, but ends up becoming her prey. Krzysztof Winiewicz’s camerawork shows melancholic images of a rather nondescript environment in 1960s Warsaw, the pubs are are as faceless as Bazyl’s studio flat. The characters seem to live in a void, only music keeping them alive. AS

KINOTEKA 2017 | 24 MARCH 19.30 | CLOSE-UP CINEMA

 

Man of Marble (1976-7) | Kinoteka 2017

220px-Man-of-marble-posterDir.: Andrzej Wajda

Cast: Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda, Jacek Lomnicki

Poland 1977, 165 min.

Wajda had to wait 15 years between finishing the script with Aleksander Scibor-Rylski and the film’s production in 1976/77. Despite this, the fact that he was allowed to shot the film at all is a small miracle, considering that it is a frontal assault on the evils of Stalinism in a country still under the iron fist of Russia. MAN OF MARBLE is set on the line of Wolfgang Leonhardt’s famous book of the denunciation of Stalinism: “The revolution eats its children”. The victim in this case is a fictitious Stakhanovite worker, Mateusz Birkut, who in the early fifties laid 28,000 bricks in a shift, setting a record, which made him a (short-lived) hero. He becomes the subject of a young film student, Agnieszka, who chooses him as the subject for her diploma film. Soon it becomes apparent, that the authorities are not keen for Agnieszka to continue, and her project is stopped and the material confiscated. But the student does not give up, after finding and interviewing the ex-hero’s son Maciej (both father and son are played by the same actor, J. Radziwilowycz), she learns that Birkut senior has been dead for years, after falling from grace. Wajda wanted to end the film showing his death in the clashes in Gdansk in the early seventies, but the censors  insisted on an open ending. (In MAN OF STEEL (1981) Wajda showed Birkut’s fate as he had planned for MAN OF MARBLE).

The beauty of this film lies in its complexity: Birkut is a submissive hero, believing in Stalinism, a system which would crush him. He is quite close to the young film student, who “re-discovers” him – only to be told, that her work too, is not needed. The label of “socialist hero” disguised the decency and humility of Birkut, his real qualities made him a hero, not his propaganda value for an inhuman system.

Wajda’s lucidity in making this contrast between the system and its idealistic followers, is even more valid today, because now, decades after the fall of Stalinism, it becomes clearer every day, that  Stalinism had very little in common with Socialism but was just a tool of the Russian State for its expansion, in the same way, as its oligarchy today uses its economic power of capitalism, to supress and annexe its neighbouring states. AS

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 25 March | Close-Up Cinema | 16.00

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A 2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION IS ALSO AVAILABLE AT SECONDRUNDVD.COM.

 

Promised Land (1975) | Ziemia Obiecana | Kinoteka 2017

Director: Andrzej Wajda | Cast: Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Andrzej Seweryn, Anna Nehrebecka, Tadeusz Bialoszcztnski, Bozena Dykiel, Franciszek Pieczka, Danuta Wodynska | Poland  160min

The Promised Land is Epic in every true sense of the word. It is a massive, sprawling, all-encompassing, vast film that rolls relentlessly onwards with all the energy of the industrial revolution that it portrays and yet never leaves behind the microscope on the wild, immense , tangled emotional landscape of the people that populate it. Wonderful.

Despite being made almost forty years ago, this astonishing work hasn’t aged a day. Concerning Lodz’s emerging textile industry at the turn of the century, three young friends, a Polish aristocrat, a German and a Jew plot to make their fortunes by building their own factory, whatever the cost.

And here, Wajda is in his element, displaying the insane wastage of wealth, built out of the rags and ruins of the destitute, forced to work as children in the hard, filthy, dangerous factories, to be inevitably plucked either by the wealthy or by the work.

As with all the best films created under a punitive regime, this is a work of allegory and symbolism all wrapped in a huge dollop of humour and laced with arsenic; there’s no hiding the fact that this depiction of rampant capitalism actually alluded to the Communist politics of the time.

This is filmmaking at its peerless best. The concept, the execution, the cast, the design and the acting all conspire to create a masterwork in film. It’s what we go to the cinema for. Wajda’s vision and the mastery of his medium was there for all to see in his WWII trilogy, A Generation, Kanal and Ashes And Diamonds; three films worshipped and copied by a generation thereafter. Heaven only knows why this one didn’t go on to win its nominated Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Andrzej Wajda survived the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Poland. In 1942, he joined the Resistance until the war ended in 1945. In 1946 he moved to Krakow where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, before moving on to study film. His appreciation for life as well as art must indeed have been hard won.

The cast is enormous and some of the larger scenes have a host of extras that today’s directors can only dream of. One of the many outstanding qualities ofThe Promised Land is the fully-rounded, flawed nature of all of the characters. Not many come out the other side as morally sound or principled and the steamroller charitably called ‘progress’ soon crushes those that do.

Tradition, honour, integrity, respect, faith, humanity and an honest living are all tokens thrown in to stoke the fire of greed, driving this story forward. Things being what they are now, it is  hard not to reflect how the story this film tells was never more apposite. A visionary film with its evergreen themes. MT

 KINOTEKA 2017 | 16 March 19.00 | CLOSE-UP CINEMA

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The Last Family (2016) |Ostantia Rodzina |Kinoteka 2017

Dir.: Jan. P. Matuszynski; Cast: Andrzej Seweryn; David Ogrodnik, Aleksandra Konieczna, Andrzej Chyra, Alicja Karluk, Magdalena Boczarska; Poland 2016, 122 min.

The debut feature of 32 year-old Polish director Jan P. Matuszynski is an emotionally harrowing and visually stunning tour-de-force, capturing the latter part of the life of the Polish post-surrealist painter Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005). Brilliantly executed in details, in common with many biopics, it suffers from occasionally lacking cohesion in so far as that the scenes, however impressive,  do not always hang together as a whole.

The most important aspect of The Last Family is the part we never get to see: Beksinski Senior actually painting (even though the flat is filled with his finished works). His art is hardly referred to, and during the lengthy episode of his life that forms the focus of this study, from 1977 to 2005, none of the Poland’s political changes are mentioned or in any way manifest themselves in the life of the family. Instead we are immediately thrown in at the deep-end: in 2005 the painter recalls disturbing phantasies in an interview, concerning a virtual reality in which he wants to have S/M games with Alicia Silverstone (artificially made taller by three inches). The narrative then flips back back to 1977 when the Beksinki parents Zdzislaw (Seweryn) and Zofia (Konieczna) take their son Tomasz (Ogrodnik) to his new flat, which is in a high-rise block opposite their own. It soon becomes clear that Tomasz keeps his parents busy: whilst professionally adapt – he is a club- and radio DJ, as well as a translator from English into Polish – his emotional growth seems to stunted, he permanently self-pities himself, relying on his parents for any domestic arrangements, and seems to be unable to love anybody but himself. He also seems unable to perform sexually, which is graphically displayed in a scene with his girl-friend Patrycja (Karluk).

His father, who obsessively tapes and videos his family, seems, in contrast, very placid and good-natured, even though, looking at his paintings we may doubt his inner peace. The family is held together by Zofia, who cares for the two men, in addition to the paternal and maternal grandmothers, both called Stanislawa. The only outside interloper is ex-pat Piotr Dmochowski (Chyra), who visits the painter from Paris, trying to sell his paintings in France. He is later banished on account of his unauthorised biography of the family, but after Zofia’s death, Zdzislaw allows him back into his life. After trying in vain to kill himself for twenty-three year, Tomasz succeeds finally at the end of millennium: his father, sitting beside his body, sarcastically congratulates his son. In a violent finale the painter becomes the victim of a young man, reminding us very much of Kieslowski’s A short film about Killing.

DoP Kacper Fertacz camera pictures the Beksinski’s through a peephole: giving us an intimate and voyeuristic view of proceedings. Tomasz’ place is shown the same claustrophobic way. Writer Robert Bolesto, basing his script on the painter’s recordings and diaries, surprises us with some unusual ideas: there is a scene where Tomasz is telling the inflight stewardess that his numerologist told him the plane would crash, but he would survive – which is shown to be true. The leading trio is brilliant, particularly Konieczna, whose Zofia is always keeping the balance of the family life and Andrzej Seweryn went on to win Best Actor at Locarno Film Festival 2016. The choice of music – among others Schnittke and Mahler at the finale – rounds up this apocalyptic and traumatic experience. AS

SCREENING SATURDAY 18 MARCH | 15.00 REGENT STREET CINEMA

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 17 MARCH – 5 APRIL 2017

 

Afterimage (2016) | Kinoteka 2017 | 17 March -5 April 2017

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Script: Andrzej Mularczyk | Cast: Boguslaw Linda, Aleksandra Justa, Bronislawa Zamachowska, Zofia Wichlacz, Zofia Wichlacz, Krzysztof Pieczynski | Biopic | Polish | 98min

The last work of Poland’s most revered postwar filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda (Promised Lands, Pan Tadeusz), is a fiercely committed obituary of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, one of his country’s most strikingly visionary contemporary artists, victimised by the communist regime all the way to his death in 1952. As played by Boguslaw Linda, whose features bear more than a passing resemblance to both Wajda and Strzeminski, this is a fitting end note to Wajda’s career; the filmmaker recently passed away at the age of 90, leaving a filmography largely dedicated to crucial moments and leading characters in the history of his country.

The film stands as an imposing monument to the memory of a great artist although it’s clearly a festival item per excellence – after all, no film event would want to miss the last work of a grand master. This is an essential addition to the tragic cultural history of the communist era in Eastern Europe and the disasters wrecked by this totalitarian rule. Since Wajda’s career was launched at about the same time this story takes place, his intimate knowledge of the background is not necessarily the result of thorough research but also an expression of personal frustrations and pain he experienced himself through long patches of his own artistic life.

Strzeminski, born in 1893 in Minsk, now the capital of Belarus, and educated in St. Petersburg, lost an arm and a leg in WW1, despite which he attended the First Free State Workshops in Moscow and was close to such ground- breaking avant-garde artists of that period as Malevich and Chagall. In 1923 he moved to Warsaw to become one of founders of the constructivist group Blok.

A scholar, theoretician and art historian, Strzeminski formulated the Unism theory, an artistic conception based on the integrity of the universe which considers the levels of artistic, scientific and cultural achievements as an indication of social development. Most of his ideas about art in general and visual arts in particular are to be found in his posthumous Theory of Vision, published by his students after his death.

Wajda’s film, written by Andrzej Mularczyk, picks Strzeminski up in 1949, when he is about to be fired from his teaching job at the Higher School of Visual Arts in Lodz over preaching a modernity strictly opposed to the populist demands of the Communist Party.

The film’s plot follows the regime’s systematic efforts to break down this headstrong, unbending artist who refused to compromise on any artistic grounds whatsoever. A chain smoker and man of great personal charm, exclusively dedicated to his art who, notwithstanding his disabilities, was living on his own at the time – apart from irregular visits from his teenage daughter – he carried on teaching his devoted students in as much as was tenable.

With his work systematically destroyed and obliterated, Strzeminski was gradually deprived of any income, fired from the Artists Union and even denied the right to buy paints. Pushed into utter misery and forced to accept degrading jobs, only to be kicked out of them as well, he collapsed one day on the street, was taken to a hospital where he died of tuberculosis in 1952.

Wajda, whose early films (Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) are considered definitive portraits of Poland of that period and who clashed often throughout his long career with the Polish communist regime (on films such as Man of Marble), evidently felt strongly for Strzemynski and his fate, seeing in him a symbol of the creative artist crushed down by a narrow-minded, ferociously dictatorial regime which allows no digression.

Lynda, one of his country’s leading actors, who was associated with most of the great films coming out of Poland in the 80’s and 90’s – including Wajda’s own Man of Iron – is probably the perfect fit for the role, not only because of his obvious thespian gifts but also his physiognomy.

A remarkably neat, correct, and historically faithful picture, Wajda’s passionate veneration for Strzeminski clearly led to a rather didactic approach. Characters are not too deeply probed, there are heroes we admire, villains we detest and nothing much in between, but some scenes, such as the funeral of Strzeminski’s estranged wife, the sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, and the moment when he finds out about her death, a few days later, are truly moving.

DoP Pawel Edelman are, as always, exquisite, but the art direction fills the screen with freshly made, antiseptically clean sets, seemingly never lived-in before. This may be rather out of tune, but despite it, the film still stands as an imposing monument to the memory of a great artist. AS

Walkover (1965) Walkower | Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

Dir|Wri: Jerzy Skolimowski | Cast: Aleksandra Zawieruszanka, Andrzej Leszczyc, Krzysztof Chamiec | 77min   Drama    Polish with subtitles

During the 1960s writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski focused on films exploring the ironic aspects and moral dilemmas affecting everyday life in post-Stalinist Poland. His films were the ‘Impressionists’ of an era dominated by the sweeping epics of the Polish Film School.

A debut feature, Rysopsis (Identification Marks: None) 1965 was closely followed by WALKOVER another drama set in his home town of Lodz (and also starring his off-screen partner Elzbieta Czyzewska in the opening scenes).

As Andrzej Leszczy, he represents a ‘New Wave’ hero, a raffish outsider with a certain appeal to the opposite sex. Drifting around the locale, having left the army and about to embark on engineering studies, he is taking part in a local boxing match when he meets Teresa (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka), a government engineer who has arrived in the city to work on a new factory scheme. Under Teresa’s spell (Zawieruszanka looks like a Polish equivalent of Angie Dickinson) goes to the wrong ring for the tournament. And as he sits on the train with Teresa, we see his boxing opponent following on a motorbike, viewed in a superb continuous shot from the rear of the carriage. Turning up later, Andrzej wins the contest in a “walkover” as his rival fails to turn up.

As a metaphor for individuality WALKOVER was a very personal second feature for Skolimowski, who aside from his filmmaking activities enjoyed boxing and poetry, some of which is recited in voiceover in several scenes. The film opens with the face of a woman who will later jump under Andrzej and Teresa’s train, but rather than develop this plotline, Skolimowski’s film segues unconventionally into Andrzej’s story using the furore from the accident as an enticing background introduction to the central story about the couple’s brief romance.

The tragedy of the girl under the train adds additional texture, but remains an undeveloped strand. Perhaps his intention was to use her suicide as a cry for help from the thousands of Poles who felt washed up, directionless and cynical after years of fighting a cause; rather like the troubled characters in Tadeusz Konwicki’s Last Day of Summer. It was certainly his intention to explore unconventional ways of telling a story.

Skolimowski’s drama also seems to suggest the importance of standing up against the tide of change and power.  Both Andrzej and Teresa go on to fight their individual battles in WALKOVER. Andrzej perseveres with his boxing and Teresa argues with the factory chief but they both rebel against the tide of industrial Lodz. Although the couple enjoy a night together they remain detached in the scheme of things, alienated further by the stark industrial landscape of Sixties Lodz.

The occasional modernist building sparks interest, such as in the pure lines of the outdoor restaurant scene (title photo), emphasising the pristine black and white cinematography of Antoni Nurzynski. The film also features a meandering, improvised jazzy score by Andrzej Trzaskowski (Night Train). MT

WALKOVER IS SCREENING DURING BERGAMO FILM MEETING’S RETRO OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI

 

 

Identification Marks: None (1965) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Jerzy Skolimowski, Elzbieta Czyzweska, Tadeusz Minc, Andrzej Zarnecki, Jacek Szczek

73min | Drama | Poland

Jerzy Skolimowski’s debut sparked off two sequels (Walkover and Hands Up!); he also plays the leading role of an aimless college dropout kicking through the final traces of freedom before being drafted into the army. Ever the outsider, Skolimowski explores the motives of his recalcitrant character Andrzej Leszczye, who is living with his wife but keeping his options open with a series of other women while he hangs around Lódz with his dog (who has contracted rabies, and has to be put down) before catching the train with his other friends who have been conscripted to the army.

Only 23 at the time, the young filmmaker flexes his artistic muscles with tricks and creative flourishes honed during his final days at Lódz, and the result is here in pristine black and white. Well- made and beautifully edited by one-time feature editor Halina Szalinska, Identification Marks has a lively unstructured score by Krzysztof Sadowski. The footloose ennui of Poland’s postwar generation is captured to perfection in a carefree chronicle of this final day of youth, epitomising the Polish New Wave. Skolimowski incorporates some of the footage shot during film school, using stock provided and the skills of his college contemporaries at Lódz. MT

KINOTEKA | 7 -28 APRIL 2016

Hands Up! (1981) | Rece do Gory | Kinoteka 2016

Director.: Jerzy Sklolimowski

Cast: Jerzy Skolimowski, Joanna Szczerbic, Adam Hanuszkiewicz, Bogumi Kobiela; Poland

76min | 1967/1981 | Poland

Skolimowski shot the last part of his trilogy featuring the anti-Stalinist hero, Andrzej Lesczczy, in 1967. The completed film was withheld by the censors but was finally released in 1981 when he returned to Poland to screen a new version with a prologue of 25 minutes, showcasing his more recent artistic activities.

In 1980 Skolimowski played German photographer Hoffmann in the Volker Schloendorff film Circle of Deceit. Set in Lebanese capital of Beirut, it shows the widespread devastation of the country, but also features the filmmaking process where he discusses with Schloendorff the modus operandi of a German photographer in a war torn country. There are clips from pro-Solidarnosc demonstrations that took place in London and an exhibition of Skolimowski’s paintings in a gallery there. Images of Speaker’s Corner and gloomy shots of contemporary Warsaw round up this prologue that feels like a contempo newsreel of the era.

The original version of Rece Do Gory features the former medical students, now adults, travelling in a sealed-up railway compartment. Andrzej (‘Zastava’) (Skolimowski) is now working as a vet, the hero of Identification Marks: None and Walkover is seemingly taking drugs with his friends Joanna (‘Alfa’) (Szczerbic), Adam (‘Romeo’) (Hanuszkiewicz) and ‘Wartburg’ (Kobiela). But it turns out that they are only knocking back placebos and calling each other by car names; very appropriate for the director of The Departure. Whilst the anti-Stalinist parodies are biting, Skolimowski goes further back in history, lamenting the fact that the train the medics are travelling in could well have been used by the Nazis, deporting Polish Jews into the death camps. Penderecki’s mournful music reminds that Polish history is never far from tragedy. This is underlined at the end when the actors of the original film appear on the screen in the 1981 version – minus Bogumi Kobiela, who died, only 38, in a car crash in 1969.

Whilst it is difficult to imagine how the original version of Rece Do Gory might have looked, the prologue gives us an idea how Skolimowski would have developed as a filmmaker if he would have been allowed to work in Poland. Both parts of the new version are permeated by an overbearing feeling of sadness that connects the past and present states of humanity as a whole: there is little optimism, just different forms of melancholia. AS

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

A Woman Alone | Kobieta Samotna (1981) | Kinoteka 2021

Director: Agnieszka Holland  Writers: Agnieszka Holland, Maciej Karpinski | Cast: Maria Chwalibog, Boguslaw Linda, Pawel Witczak, Danuta Balicka-Satanowska | 92min | Drama | Poland

The gruelling life of a single mother is the subject of Agnieszka Holland’s humanist but harrowing slice of ’80s social realism. Irena (Maria Chwalibóg|Mother Joan of the Angels) shares her bed and bathwater with her little son Bob (Pawel Witczak) in a small rented room in Wroclaw. The landlord regularly switches off their electricity supply, babies cry endlessly next door and her job as a postal worker is physically overwhelming. To make matters worse, she is forced to care for and support her sick and mean-fisted aunt who lives nearby. So much for communism.

Intimate in scale but far-reaching in its implications, this heartbreaking domestic drama touchingly depicts the close ties of family and the devoutness of religious feelings in a small community; but above all the hopeless desperation of a woman who has no joy, warmth or affection in a miserable existence where she feels neither respected nor valued. The stress of her meaningless life eventually leads her to the town hall where she makes an emotional appeal for better conditions and housing, but is sent packing by the authorities.

Agnieszka Holland shot this sharply critical feature on a hand-held camera shortly before making Angry Harvest. As a woman she is able to empathise with the female need to express feelings of alienation and loneliness in a world where outside emotional demands submerge her central character’s wellbeing.  Holland ellicits a poignantly discrete performance from Maria Chwalibóg, who shows how the interest and support of a masculine presence allows her eventually to tolerate her situation and care for her dependents. This support comes in the shape of a disabled younger man, Jacek. Although she is not attracted physically to Jacek (an unglamorous but award-winning role played sensitively here by Boguslaw Linda), she befriends him, disarmed by his desperatation to show her love and just to be with her. The two develop a relationship of sorts that leads them to a brief moment of happiness until they realise tragically this is also a point of no return. MT

KINOTEKA 2021 

 

The Anatomy of Evil | Anatomia Zla (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Director |Writer.: Jacek Bromski

Cast: Krisztof Stroinski, Marcin Kowalczyk, Michalina Olszanska

117min | Poland 2015 | Action Thriller

In his latest action thriller, Jacek Bromski (One Way Ticket to the Moon) paints a grim portrait of contemporary Poland. After the fall the of authoritarian Stalinist regime, which wanted to control all aspects of life in the country, Capitalism has brought liberation – but over the years, a new elite has developed – as it did during Communism – and those selected few live a rarified existence simply because of their financial means, connected to a global network of incredible wealth.

Professional killer Karol Lulek (Stroinski), has been released from prison on parole but is asked by his former boss, now the Attorney General, to do the classic ‘one last job’ for the authorities  who put him away in the first place. This involves collecting 100 000 Dollar and a new passport before he kills the Head of the Central investigation Bureau – who has become an obstacle in a multi-million deal involving American money.

Lulek reluctantly agrees but finds out that his sight is since impaired, making it impossible for him to competently undertake the mission. Instead, he finds a surrogate, the young sniper Stasiek (Kowalczyk) hounded down by a local journalist after he mistakenly killed an innocent citizen in Afghanistan. Lulek retrieves his hidden cash from a hut in the countryside, killing the woman who guarded his belongings. He then murders the journalist, hoping to get an emotional hold on Stasiek for his loyalty and trouble. Stasiek meanwhile, falls for a prostitute Halina (Olszanska) who works in a luxury hotel whence he plans to shoots the CBS boss, while he visits his Opera-singing mistress in the adjoining hotel. Naturally, the plan goes awry with disastrous consequences.

Bromski’s contempo Poland is a divided society where community and solidarity have given way to crass materialism, ‘get rich quick’ schemes and deteriorating human relationships. Values have deteriorated and led to indifference in a society ruled by invisible forces and subdued palette steel grey and brown; from the harshly lit scenes in the luxury hotel to the soulless streets where everything seems to be for sale. Lulek and Stasiek are grasping victims and perpetrators at the same time: each man for himself. Krzysztof Stoinski gives an award-winning performance as Stasiek: his naïve love for Halina giving him humanity and purpose. Bromski masterful direction concentrates on the interaction and motives of the characters; avoiding sensationalism. A sober and subtlely-nuanced study of a country fighting for a new identity. AS

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 7 – 27 APRIL 2016

Deep End (1970) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Jane Asher, John Moulder-Brown, Karl Michael Vogler, Diana Dors, Christopher Sandford

88min | Drama | UK/Germany 1970

Jerzy Skolimowski left Poland after his 1966 film Barrier to direct three German co-productions: The Departure, The Adventures of Gerard and the rather quaint Deep End which was set in London but was mostly shot in Munich, Germany.

In this prescient view of  ‘modern’ London, Skolimowski explores the burgeoning power of youth in contrast to age through a mishmash of interconnecting sexual and emotional encounters. Mike (Moulder-Brown), a naive and fresh-faced public school-leaver takes a job in the local public baths. He falls for his colleague Susan (a gamine Jane Asher), who is already involved with an obnoxious fiancé (Sanford) and her old teacher (Vogler), who seduced her when she was underage. Meanwhile, Mike is being harassed by a busty blond client (Dors) who fantasises about George Best while she molests him. When Susan loses a diamond ring given to her by her fiancé, Mike’s hormones are in overdrive as he tries to help her find it and their putative romance has a messy ending.

The Sixties are over in DEEP END and London is anything but swinging: the sleet grey streets a symbol for a down-trodden capital. Despite this, Skolimowski’s dialogue feels fresh and authentic and the detail spot on: Jane Asher rocks white lace-up boots and a yellow plastic midi mac and Moulder Brown, a sports jacket and white sneakers (he cleans the bath with ‘Vim’). Existential angst dominates these characters, each bleaker than the other but the tone is chipper rather than downbeat, often accompanied by the musical strains of The Can and Cat Stevens.

Mistreated by her teacher, Susan uses her fiancé to get even with her next love interest; she is a classic ‘victim turned abused’. Mike is very much the naïve bystander and the work environment alien to him; he is also a victim and, in the end, an abuser out of control. Susan’s teacher and her fiancé are both insecure, preying on Susan and her co-dependence. Diana Dors’ client is a throwback to an era (nearly half a century ago) where many people had no bathroom and were forced to wash in the public baths. Her obsession with football is also significant: long before the sport became a middle class hobby, football and its heroes represented a way out for the working classes, compensating for their dreary life: A visit to the match was a live chance to worship their heroes. Sex Education posters state: “What if a Man could get pregnant” underlining the emotional alienation between the sexes, despite the advent of sexual liberation and the Pill, DEEP END is still marooned in a world Of Victorian values, quite the opposite of the rosy vision of the ‘swinging sixties’, Jane Asher carries the film, a figure of feminine vulnerability fighting her corner in a sea of emotional turmoil that ends in surprising tragedy. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 -28 APRIL 2016

 

People With No Tomorrow (1921) | Ludzie bez jutra | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Aleksander Hertz   Writer: Stanislaw Jerzy Kozlowski

Cast: Józef Węgrzyn, Halina Bruczówna, Pavel Owerlio, Iza Kozlowska

Drama | Silent | Poland

On the morning of 1 July 1890 the acclaimed Polish actress Maria Wisnowska was found shot dead in her Warsaw apartment. Her killer was a Russian hussar seven years her junior named Alexander Barteniew, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years of hard labour and exile to Siberia. At the old Powazki cemetery in Warsaw a large monument in white marble was erected to Miss Wisnowska, and when Barteniew later returned destitute to the city he would reputedly be seen laying flowers and weeping over her monument before he eventually died in a Warsaw poorhouse in 1932.

The murder – and the revelations about Wisnowska’s love life that emerged during the trial that followed – were later fictionalised by, among others, Ivan Bunin in his 1925 novella The Case of Lieutenant Yelagin, Stanislaw Antoni Wotowski in Maria in the Bonds of a Tragic Love Affair (1928) and by Wladyslaw Terlecki as A Black Romance (1974). Inevitably there was also a film version: Ludzie bez jutra – the title of which translates literally as People With No Tomorrow – subtitled A Tragedy in Five Acts.

The film was directed by Aleksander Hertz (1879-1928), an important figure in Polish silent cinema who has been described as ‘the father of the Polish Film” and whose name appears in reference books and all the histories but whose films – along with Polish silent films in general – are as rare as total eclipses. People With No Future largely dropped out of film history along with most of Hertz’s other films until an incomplete tinted print was discovered in Germany’s Bundesarchiv in 2003; to be unveiled in Warsaw last December and in London, with a live musical accompaniment, at the Regent Street Cinema as part of the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2016.

IMG_2167Although completed in 1919, the sensitive subject of a notorious and destructive relationship between a Russian soldier and a famous Polish woman (their two countries were actually at war between February 1919 and March 1921), resulted in two years of censorship delays, including changes to the title (it was also known as At the Time of the Czars and as The Barteniew Affair) and to the names of the central characters. The premiere was postponed twice before it eventually opened in November 1921 when, not surprisingly, it proved popular. The still reproduced here of actors Józef Węgrzyn and Iza Kozlowska as Barteniew and his fiancée contemplating Wisnowska’s monument, is possibly a publicity picture – and certainly didn’t appear in the print shown at Regent Street – but shows that the film was originally overtly about Wisnowska. In the film as it now exists, the two ill-fated leads are now named Lola Wirska and Alfred Runicz, but the film is vague about the period (it seems to be set before the Russian revolution, but a document is seen bearing the date 1919) – and the surviving version screened at Regent Street ends very abruptly!

Viewed after an absence of nearly a hundred years, People With No Tomorrow plays as a plush, very attractively tinted, if rather stilted soap opera in which Halina Bruczówna as diva Lola Wirska sashays through various elegant interiors – and some handsome contemporary Warsaw locations – in a variety of outfits that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Dallas. Wicked Lola doesn’t let the fact that she already has a fiancé interfere with her “weakness for jewelry” lavished upon her by the various male admirers in her wake, whose ranks are swelled by the dashingly-uniformed but unstable Alfred, who also has a fiancée. Alfred in this version of events spends a lot of his time kissing the hand of the object of his obsession but seldom seems to get much further, and after he is challenged to a duel by Lola’s indignant fiancé, his descent is swift. The film throws in a female Iago in the form of Helena Sulima as rival diva Helena Horska (probably based on Wisnowska’s real-life rival Jadwiga Czaki) whose intriguing against Wirska includes engineering the compromising letter that seals her doom. RICHARD CHATTEN.

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

The Devil | Diabel (1972) | Kinoteka 2016

Director|Writer: Andrzej Zulawski

Cast: Leszek Teleszynski, Wojciech Pszniak, Malgorzata Braunek

Poland 1972, 119 min.

Banned by the Stalinest censors, who saw a hidden critique of life in contemporary Poland in Zulawski’s second feature, he left his homeland to shoot L’Important: C’est d’Aimer with Romy Schneider in France before going back again for On the Silver Globe, a production that was blighted by the authorities who refused to allow him to finish the fSci-fi outing. In the end, a 146 minutes version was premiered in 1988.

DIABEL is set in 1793 during the Prussian invasion of Poland. Jacub (Teleszynski) lives in a religious prison asylum, having trying to assassinate The King. A mysterious man, clad in black (the Devil played by Wojciech Pszoniak), leads him to freedom but in the process starts making unreasonable demands on Jacub, who suffers from paranoid illusions; seeing life as a feverish dream where he is forced to save his country and family. Not surprisingly, he has had a dysfunctional relationship with his relatives. Returning home, he learns that his father has just died – committing suicide after raping his daughter, who apparently had gone insane. Jacub claims to have had sex (as a child) with his mother, who now works as a prostitute nearby. Meanwhile, his sister is living with his half brother and his bride (Braunek) who is pregnant by Jacub’s best friend. This together with his paranoid state, causes him to go on a rampage of gory killings, accompanied by a nun.

The film feels like Hamlet directed by Wes Anderson; the characters are all deranged and their insanity manifests at some point during the narrative. And Jacub does not see his father’s ghost, as he is living a phantasy nightmare where the boundaries between reality and dream are fluid. His reaction to all this is to kill violently. Andrzej Jaroszewiecz (who was also behind the camera for the abandoned On the Silver Globe) creates this crazed landscape with stunning intensity and a lucid palette that illuminates every gory murder scene in a different way. Whilst the narrative is enigmatic, to say the least, the overall impression is extraordinarily evocative.

Melodramatic performances perfectly fit this bizarre plot: whilst not making sense in a logical way, the weirdness gradually develops an inner stringency – the longer Jacub’s mad reign goes on, the more we tend to see the world through his warped perspective. DIABEL is not a great film, but a very exciting experimental one. AS

KINOTEKA RUNS UNTIL 28 APRIL AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON

Barrier (1966) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Jan Nowicki, Joanna Szczerbic, Taddeus Lomnicki

Poland 1966, 84 min.

After finishing BARRIER in 1966, Skolimowski left Poland to shoot the German co-production The Departure with Jean-Pierre Leaud. He returned to his homeland in 1967 to finish his Andrzej Leszezyce trilogy (that started with Identifying Marks and Walkover) with Hands Up, banned shortly after the director locked the final edit. Skolimowski returned to Poland in 1981 and showed Hands Up with a new prologue of 25 minutes. On the surface, the hero of BARRIER seems to have much in common with Andrzej but the comedy drama is aesthetically very different; the dream scenes here are very much reminiscent of early Buñuel – without being as cruel as the Spaniard.

The opening shot is symbolic: we see a half-naked male figure leaning forward on a table, trying to get to a matchbox about 80 cm below him. The man in question tries to gobble up the matchbox with his mouth, then has to get back into his original position, without falling flat on his face. What seems like a scene from a South American torture film, is a student’s prank: The future doctors are trying to find a winner for the petty cash they have collected during the year: the first one to be successful in the matchbox endeavour will get the whole stash. The students chanting in Latin makes everything even more sinister.

Skolimowski was not allowed to play the male lead role like he did in Identifying Marks and Walkover. Jan Nowicki replaced him as the medical student, a dreamer who loves jazz and girls – anything but his studies. “I have sold myself to the state for a scholarship”, he exclaims with humorous self-criticism. In his dreams, society appears as an altered state: not totally different from reality, but with a childlike eye for perfect solutions to ordinary questions. But the horror of the first scene returns and while the students in their dormitory stride along the white corridors, we hear terrible screaming. Suspecting the worst, it soon emerges that there is a dental practice next door to the Hall of Residence. When our hero meets a girl (Szczerbic) working as a tram conductor, two worlds collide: she is hyper realistic and sees life as a scheme where progress is made in little steps. But both have one philosophy in common: their contempt for the older generation (rather like in Deep End), stuck in the past – giving the film its title. Again, Jazz and poetry underline the mosaic narrative: “In this cynical and un-idealistic generation romantic impulses manifest themselves”.

But there is no romanticism, however bitter or twisted – the polemic is too fierce and the surrealism is sometimes so absurd if seems as if Skolimowski wants to escape from an unbearable situation. DoP Jan Laskowski (Night Train), creates dark, sinister images of life in a cul-de-sac contrasting sharply with the bland images of everyday life. BARRIER is Skolimowski’s most complex and abstract work so far. AS

KINOTEKA 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

Demon (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Marcin Wrona  Screenwriters: Marcin Wrona, Pawel Maslona

Cast: Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt, Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Agnieszka Zulewska

92min | Horror | Poland/Israel

Director Marcin Wrona’s tragic suicide haunts this atmospheric tale of possession that opens with a suitably forboding original score from vintage Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki as a ghostly dawn comes to a bucolic village south of Warsaw. It seems a fitting tribute that the film went on to win Best Horror Feature at Austin’s Fantastic Fest

Despite this unsettling start, the mood soon brightens with the arrival of Piotr who has come to marry his girlfriend Zaneta whose rambling family property is the setting for the celebrations and their future home. Clearly the two are madly in love but preparations take a sinister turn when Piotr discovers a some human remains while digging foundations for a swimming pool in the overgrown gardens. Piotr soon forgets about his ghoulish discovery as friends arrive and the wedding gets off to a boyant start; but clearly something is wrong. The tone lurches from heightened melodrama to seething dread as Piotr undergoes some kind of physical transformation involving fits and nosebleeds. Itay Tiran gives an extrordinary physical performance as the bridegroom; writhing, gesticulating and quivering like a man possessed – and clearly he is. But Piotr’s break-dancing histrionics feels like a mere side-show to the high guests’ already hysterical partying enhanced by heavy vodka drinking (a very Polish wedding), dancing and singing to the gypsy-style band. He is only taken seriously when he passes out after an ‘epileptic’ fit.  Naturally, Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) has his worst fears confirmed – he was always suspicious of his daughter marrying a foreigner – ordering the wedding to continue, not wanting to upset or compromise Zaneta’s day. It soon emerges she is not the only bride at the wedding.

DEMON is an effecting mood piece; a great example of how music, lighting and subtle camerawork can be used effectively in the horror genre. Wrona’s script has a solid premise: that spirits from past lives can come back to haunt and meddle with the status quo. The feeling of tension and unease is dramatically heightened by Penderecki’s fantastic score which together with some breathtaking visuals from cinematographer Pawel Fils, convey a surreal, otherworldly quality to the narrative until eventually lines blur between reality and the supernatural to create a compelling fantasy ghost story rooted in the present. MT

KINOTEKA LONDON | 7 April – 28 April 2016

 

Strange Heaven (2015)

Director: Dariusz Gajewski

Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Bartlomiej Topa, Barbara Kubiak

107min | Drama | Poland Sweden

Dariusz Gajewski’s STRANGE HEAVEN (Obce niebo) delicately tackles the thorny themes of the nanny state and immigration. Agnieszka Grochowska and Batłomej Topa play Basia and Marek, a Polish couple who havee to Sweden with their nine-year-old daughter Ula (Barbara Kubiak). Following very much in the footsteps of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt it works on an emotional level where basic human rights and dignity  (in the real sense of the word) are taken over by the most extreme form of political correctness, masquerading as the law, ignores the needs, wellbeing and wishes of both parent and child.

Ursula is having trouble adjusting to her new school and language (Polish to Swedish is a tall order) and has even been given a new nickname “Ula”. Basia and Marek are also finding life tough in a new country and their relationship is clearly under pressure. A social worker (Ewa Fröling) with time on her hands questions Ula and has come to the conclusion that the girl would be better off with foster parents, forcing her parents into the invidious and painful task of trying to get their daughter back from the vice-like grip of the almost passive aggressive legal system in Sweden.

STRANGE HEAVEN makes for gripping viewing but of the kind that will have your stomach in knots as you work through your own feelings about Health and Safety and the loss of normal social interaction in today’s world. It may appear as if the premise is absurb and far-fetched yet Gajewski is tapping into a growing malaise in our public authorities and welfare system that often beggars belief albeit with a narrative that occasionally overplays its hand to underline the seriousness and implications of where, as a society we are heading. Ism also very perceptive in here in delving into relationships and showing how the dynamics of a healthy family (with often rambunctious ways of resolving and alleviating conflict could easily manifest as unhealthy to the outside world, heaven forbid the beady over-protective domain of the average social workers who are either covering their own backs or ‘learning lessons’.

Grochowska and Topa are a convincing couple, their volatility and harsh words dissolving into loving embraces or laughter (perfectly illustrated in an early scene where Grochowska literally bursts out laughing behind the social worker). As their tragedy dawns on them they are authentic. Topa calmly analytical, while Grochowska indignance in completely understandable, winning her Best Actress at this year’s Gydnia Festival. And Barbara Kubiak – is just right as a little girl who is well-mannered and, like most kids, surprisingly flexible, settling down in her new home and mustering the language – much to the anguish and distress of her parents who are naturally less fluent, at this stage. STRANGE HEAVEN may occasionally veer on the melodramatic but it’s a moving and intense film that resonates for a long time afterwards. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2016 | 7 APRIL

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | London 7 – 29 April 2016

THE 14TH KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL CELEBRATES THE CREATIVE GENIUS OF POLAND’S LEADING LIGHTS: JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI, AGNIESZKA HOLLAND & ANDRZEJ ŻUŁAWSKI 
and some edgy new titles | 7 – 29 April 2016

Celebrating seminal works and latest releases from the contemporary Polish Greats. Meet these revered directors on the big screen and in person for a series of Q&As and screentalks.

J e r z y   S k o l i m o w s k i

In London to present his latest film 11 MINUTES, one of Polish cinema’s most iconic figures, Jerzy Skolimowski’s  took Polish cinema to a new era that focused on the individual rather than traditional historic themes and ideas. Pushing boundaries and taking audiences on a bold and innovative journey, his latest is no exception; an adventurous rollercoaster full of motion, emotion and suspense. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast, 11 MINUTES is an inventive metaphor for our modern hectic lives, driven by blind chance. The Barbican Cinema will host a special retrospective of three rarely screened classic Skolimowski titles; BARRIER (1966), MOONLIGHTING  (1982) and THE SHOUT (1978), illustrating his revolutionary approach and unique narrative style.

Here he talks to us about making films during Communism and his latest thriller 11 MINUTES

A g n i e s z k a   H o l l a n d

Europa_Europa_Park_Circus_(3)A former assistant to Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland has gone on to become one of Poland’s most eminent filmmakers and the most commercially successful Polish-born director since Roman Polański. Throughout her long and celebrated career she has forged a creative path as an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, including the Golden Globe-winning EUROPA EUROPA and Oscar-nominated IN DARKNESS, who has also shown that she is just as comfortable and adept at working in television, directing episodes for US networks including HBO and Netflix, on groundbreaking shows; ‘The Wire’, ‘Treme’, ‘The Killing’ and ‘House of Cards’.

BFI Southbank presents a retrospective season of Holland’s essential films including screenings of PROVINCIAL ACTORS (1979), A WOMAN ALONE(1981), EUROPA EUROPA (1990) and IN DARKNESS (2011) alongside an in-conversation stage event to discuss her craft as well as a forum presenting her television work.

A n d r z e j   Ż u ł a w s k i

01_CosmosRegarded as one of Poland’s most original and controversial directors, who died in February 2016, made his career making films outside of Poland, Andrzej Żuławski’s final film after a 15 year break COSMOS will be screened at the ICA Cinema. Awarded the Best Direction prize at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival, the film, a metaphysical thriller, is a loose adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s surreal novel Cosmos. Hilarious, confounding and downright strange (in a good way), Żuławski fans will not be disappointed as the visionary director spins a mysterious web of erotic and psychological intrigue, bringing to mind both his earlier work as well as David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE which similarly defies any simple explanation.

As a tribute to Andrzej Żuławski, the ICA will screen a retrospective of the director’s earlier work including a newly digital remastered copy of Żuławski’s Polish production, THE DEVIL (1972) which was a victim of PRL censorship for 16 years, THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975) starring Romy Schneider as a struggling actress forced to act in erotic films, and cult body horror POSSESSION (1981) starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, whose unquestionably brilliant performance as the emotionally disturbed Anna won her both Best Actress at Cannes and a Cesar award.

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A

bodyA selection of recent, critically successful contemporary Polish films from the last year including Małgorzata Szumowska’s thought-provoking BODY, which won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and Golden Lion at the Gdynia Film Festival for Best Film, a darkly comic meditation on grief and reconciliation, using the theme of the corporal and ethereal body to weave together the stories of three interconnected but radically different people attempting to deal with the loss of a loved one. One of Poland’s most popular directors, Jacek Bromski returns to the festival with ANATOMY OF EVIL, an engaging thriller about an ageing mafia hit-man released from prison on parole who is assigned a mysterious assassination, but whom is physically unable to complete the task without help. Marcin Wrona’s atmospheric ghost story DEMON, screens as a tribute to the late filmmaker who died suddenly during the Gdynia Film Festival last year. In Dariusz Gajewski’s heart-stirring family drama STRANGE HEAVEN, Basia and Marek are a young immigrant couple living in Sweden. One innocent lie triggers an avalanche and their daughter is placed with a foster family by social services. So begins a dramatic fight with the cruel machine of bureaucracy to get their child back. Inspired by the true story of Tadeusz Szymków, Maciej Migas’s debut feature LIFE MUST GO ON features a phenomenal central performance from Tomasz Kot (Bogowie) as a feckless actor suffering from alcoholism who discovers he has incurable cancer and only three months to live. He decides to turn his life around and most importantly reconnect with his daughter but is three months enough to fix all of life’s mistakes?

Closing Night Gala

This year KINOTEKA will draw to a big band bang with the UK premiere of THE ECCENTRICS. The Sunny Side Of The Street, veteran director Janusz Majewski’s tale of Poland’s swinging 50s. Jazz loving World War Two veteran Fabian returns to Poland from the UK with the unshakeable desire to launch his own swing band. He puts together an unlikely mishmash of players, including a leading lady whose background appears to be as much of a riddle as his own. But will the ‘king and queen of swing’, with their Hollywood lifestyles, handle the reality of 50s Poland and their burning desire to be a part of the West? Inspired by his own love of swing, Majewski’s film was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Gdynia Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a swing after-party in the nearby building of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. With professional dance teachers and Polish jazz band Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet (who created the music for the film) playing live this will be a night to remember. MT

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -29 APRIL 2016 

These Daughters of Mine (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Writer| Director: Kinga Debska

Cast: Agata Kulesza, Gabriela Muskala, Marian Dziedziel, Malgorzata Niermirska

88min | Drama | Poland

Agata Kulesza (Ida)  is the star turn of this Warsaw set family drama that never feels downbeat despite its tragic subject matter. She plays Marta, the middle-aged daughter of a woman who suffers a stroke, in the opening scenes, and is admitted to hospital with a touch and go chance of survival. At odds with her sister Kasia (Gabriela Muskala) who initially falls apart, she also has to contend with their overbearing father (Marian Dziedziel) who is not a well man himself.

There’s a faint whiff of humour to Kinga Debska’s graciously crafted dirrectorial debut that gravitates towards the more endearing aspects of ageing parents and hospital life. And luckily Marta never takes herself or her family ailments too seriously. And this ironic treatment lightens the more serious issues that arise when the father, recuperating from an emergency brain operation, becomes obstreperous and difficult to handle, escaping from his hospital ward, not far from his comotose wife, to buy alcohol.

Clearly Debska has experience of family bereavement and she brings this insight and subtlety to a film that never trivialises the difficult business of survival and the mental anguish for all concerned as family dynamics shift in surprising and ultimately deeply moving ways. Both the sisters have their unique coping mechanisms, Marta, the most outwardly robust and irreverent (not dissimilar to her character in Ida), debates with the doctors and smokes dope when the going gets tough. Kasia is more flighty and sensitive – passive aggressive even – praying in church and calling her mother soppy names, much to Marta’s disdain.

Andrzej Wojciechowski’s cinematography makes this family portrait all the more enjoyable with its softly bleached aesthetic and occasional widescreen visuals of the capital and surrounding countryside that take a welcome break from the hospital routine in an impressive drama that clearly marks Debska as a talent in the making. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 – 28 APRIL 2016  

 

Goodbye, See you Tomorrow (1960) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Janusz Morgenstern Writer: Zbigniew Cybulski

Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Teresa Tuszynska, Grzyna Muszyynska, Barbara Baranowska, Wlodzimierz Bielicki

88min  | Drama  | Poland

Infectiously light-hearted and expertly-crafted New Wave ‘Dolce Vita’ drama Goodbye, See you Tomorrow embraces the best elements of Polish New Wave cinema including its burgeoning talent: a breezy score by Krzysztof Komeda; pristine visuals of DoP Jan Laskowski, and a dazzling cast including Roman Polanski and Zbigniew Cybulski who also co-wrote the script (the two other writers: Bogumil Kobiela and Wilhelm Mach, along with Komeda would all die tragically by the end of the decade). Perhaps more than anything else, the film epitomises the restless optimism, tinged with doubt, of the younger generation after the war.

Boy – in the shape of Zbigniew Cybulski – meets girl (Teresa Tuszynska), the gamine daughter of a French diplomat. She taunts and teases him in the bars and streets of Gdansk and the beaches of Sopot. They walk, talk, debate politics and laugh during their carefree, free-wheeling flirtation that never really gets off the ground, but paints a buoyant black and white picture of the era. Fun and light-hearted Goodbye, See you Tomorrow captures a moment in time where Polish filmmaking talent flourishes and everything seems possible. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 APRIL – 28 APRIL 2016 

Provincial Actors | AKTORZY PROWINCJONALNI |Kinoteka 2016

KTORZY PROWINCJONALNI (PROVINCIAL ACTORS, 1978) is Agnieszka Holland’s debut film. Set in a small town in contemporary Poland, a Warsaw filmmaker (Burski) comes to direct a small touring theatre troupe in Wyspianski’s ‘Liberation’, a patriotic Polish classic. The main actor, Krzystzof, wants to make a name for himself, and tries to influence Burski to stick religiously to the text. But Burski has other ideas: he wants to changimagee the play into a sensational avant-garde version, cutting the text down to the bone. Krzystzof fights the director all the way, but after the premiere, he gives in, making peace with Burski, to save his career. But his marriage to Anka, a puppeteer, is on the rocks. Anka leaves her husband. She too, has come to realise through experience, that advancement in Polish society comes with a loss of innocence.

Whilst Holland’s actors as not particularly sympathetic – and usual gossip about which actress beds the  director; the gay outsider and an alcoholic – society is blamed as much as the individual. Anka is shown as an idealistic dreamer who still reads Heidegger, and is ridiculed by her husband. Krzysztof starts using great words like “homeland, human fate and freedom” from the play, to make himself look more intellectual than  the rest of the cast, but he is only too ready to fall in with Burski’s interpretation. A personal crisis causes him to run to Anna (whom he had just condemned as naïve), at heart he is a little boy who really wants to go back to the safety of his mother. Contrary to some western perception, PROVINCIAL ACTORS, which won the ‘FIPRESCI’ prize in Cannes, is not a thesis film, Holland declaring “I don’t know how far I have been successful, but in my debut I was less concerned with showing the mechanism of manipulation, and more with presenting human fate, in all its embroilment and entanglement. That is, I tried to highlight the existential aspect rather than a journalistic one. I didn’t want a film with a thesis, though I have sometimes been accused of this”. Although Well-acted and masterfully crafted, this is a great introduction to Poland’s first significant female filmmaker. AS

KINOTEKA 7-28 April 2016

The Lure | Corki dancingu (2016) | Kinoteka 17 March – 5 April

Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska  Writer: Roberto Bolesto

Cast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Jacob Gierszal

Thriller | Poland

Agnieszka Smoczynska has made her name in Poland for a string of lively short films and her feature debut is no exception. Bursting onto the screen THE LURE is an all singing musical fairytale strictly for the grown-ups and set in a Warsaw nightclub where two mermaid sisters are washed up on dry land to experience life as sexy sirens in human form.

Based on a throwback to the Communist era when glamour clubs of the Polish capital staged burlesque style evenings – not unlike those that exist in London today – these ‘dancings’ (the title literally means ‘The Daughters of the Dancing”) have disappeared since the country joined the mainstream West, so this is pretty much a retro reverie rather a drama with real characters and a well-formed narrative arc.

Water babies Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden’s (Michalina Olszanska) first frolic on earth attracts the attention of the club’s manager (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who hires them as a star feature entitled “The Lure” and with their sylphlike figures, flowing locks and sensational singing voices they perform topless to the sounds of in-house band “The Family” headed by vocalist ‘mom’ (Kinga Preis) and her Bass Player (Jakub Gierszal) and Drummer (Andrzej Konopka).

Soon, the mermaids – who manage to suppress their natural carnivorous tendencies – have moved in with ‘the family’ in a small flat where romance is on the cards for the Bass Player and Silver, who hatches a drastic plan to make him fall in love with her. But before the narrative can really be meaningful, the film lurches off into full musical mode with a string of numbers performed in various venues, one being a shopping centre. This debacle adds just another layer of fantasy to an already ditzy drama embellished with impressive psychedelic flourishes and strobe lighting aplenty.

The cast are clearly onboard with Smoczynska’s artistic vision of her own childhood throwback to communism, but for most viewers outside Poland THE LURE remains a mildly entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying experience beyond its imaginative ‘music and lights’ set pieces and zany performances. MT

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH – 5 APRIL | 26 MARCH 17.30 REGENT STREET CINEMA

 

One Way Ticket to the- Moon Bilet na ksiezyc (2013) Kinoteka 2014

Director: Jacek Bromski

Filip Plawiak, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Bozena Adamek, Alicja Bach, Andrzej Beja-Zaborski, Kaja Walden

120 min Comedy Drama  Polish with subtitles

Jacek Bromski’s gloriously nostalgic rites of passage road movie takes place a Communist Poland in 1969.  Country boy Adam Sikora (Filip Plawiak)is drafted into the Navy to serve at Swinoujscie naval base on the Baltic. With his older and more worldly brother Antoni (Mateusz Kaosciukiewicz) he sets off on the bucolic road to coast from Warsaw in a journey that will change their lives forever.

Despite their easy blokeish bonhomie, tousled blond Adam and darkly charismatic Antoni disagree on everything, especially sex. Travelling mainly by train, they meet up with old friends and new. Antoni certainly knows how to get the girls and is determined to show his kid brother the ways of the world. The tone is light-hearted and fraught with of period details including the Apollo 11 moon landings  accompanied by an eclectic sixties soundtrack and even a live rendition of House of the Rising Sun.

When Adam finally breaks his duck, he unintentionally also falls foul of a police officer in an altercation that develops into an ugly situation as he attempts to extricate himself. Almost immediately Bromski ‘s light-hearted comedy shifs in tone into a melodramatic hostage caper which fetches up in edgy Berlin, in a bizarre true-story style ending.

Despite its ill-judged final stages where it ultimately loses its way by the end, it’s the two leads energy and joie de vivre that drive the early narrative forward, particularly Kaosciukiewicz who went on to be a big star on the Polish film scene. MT

Showing 18 May at Kinoteka.org

Sex in the Socialist Republic of Poland Kinoteka 2014

Sex in the Socialist Republic of Poland is fascinating series of sex-themed Polish animation shorts from the Communist era that somehow don’t feel dated and are every bit as real in their message and enchanting in their style and delivery as anything around today.

MEDUZA (1988) is a delicately rendered story of jelly fish: SEXI LOLA AUTOMATIC captures the sexual imagination of bored, married manhood in the animation style of Blake Edwards Pink Panther and LOT TRZMIELA (Flight of the Bumblebee) is a lavishly-styled floral animation set to a dreamy score by Zofia Oraczewska, who directed a series of shorts in the sixties and seventies but sadly never graduated to full-length features. Julian Józef Antoniusz, Andrzej Czeczot, Piotr Dumała and Alexander Sroczyński amongst others also take part in this film, organised in partnership with the London International Animation Festival. MT

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 24 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY 2014

Kinoteka 2014 – Cinema of Desire 24 April – 30 May

Kinoteka is back this Spring for a month-long celebration of Polish film, music and visual arts.  This 12th year of the festival celebrates the work of Walerian Borowczyk with his Erotic Fables  CINEMA OF DESIRE – the legendary filmmaker whose debut THE BEAST (1975) brought him to the film spotlight after an early career as a painter, sculptor and poster artist.

Taking place at various venues across London: The Barbican, Riverside Studios, BFI Southbank, ICA, The National Gallery Dalston’s Cafe Otto and Islington Union Chapel, it offer the chance to explore the latest in Polish film with masterclasses, Q&As and interactive workshops.

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The festival opens with the award-winning PAPUSZA, that follows the rise and fall of Polish-Gypsy poetess Bronislawa Wajs and her relationship with her discoverer, writer Jerzy Ficowski. Directors Joanna Kos-Krauze & Krzysztof Krauze (Saviour Square, The Debt)’s film premiered at Karlovy Vary and is an insightful portrait of the Polish Roma community and of a way of life pushed to the margins of society. Joanna Kos-Krauze and the film’s star Jowita Budnik will be taking part in a Q&A after the special event.

Other highlights the latest in new Polish Cinema strand are TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT, a high-grossing, police thriller packed with sleaze and corruption in a Warsaw Police department.  The Riverside Studios play host to KINOTEKA’s popular New Polish Cinema strand, delivering a consistently strong selection of Polish films from the last year, boasting critical and box office successes.  In LOVING (Wojciech Smarzowski -Rose) a couple’s relationship is put to the test after an emotional and physical trauma. Maciej Pieprzyca’s LIFE FEELS GOOD is an upbeat tribute to the human spirit, based on a true story about a man with cerebral palsy struggling to communicate to those around him is an entertaining film, brilliantly acted by non-disabled performers, the film captures as much wonderment as frustration and is filled with fully fleshed-out characters.

Acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski will present his highly anticipated and multi-award winning new film IDA. Pawlikowski’s latest film is a poetic, almost Bressonian exploration of the limits of faith following the story of Anna, a young novice in rural 1960s Poland, who discovers a dark family secret on the verge of taking her vows. Exquisitely composed and shot in luminescent black and white, , won Best Film at the London Film Festival.

Sex behind the Iron Curtain, Sex in the Socialist Republic of Poland is a fascinating and insightful look at sex behind the Iron Curtain with a programme of Polish animation shorts from the Communist period, thematically linked around sex with works by Julian Józef Antoniusz, Andrzej Czeczot, Piotr Dumała and Alexander Sroczyński amongst others.

KINOTEKA – CINEMA OF DESIRE RUNS FROM 24 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY 2014

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Traffic Department (2013) Drogowka Kinoteka 2014

TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT (DROGóWKA)

Dir.: Wojiech Smarzowski

Cast: Bartlomiej Topa, Julia Kijowska, Izabel Kuna, Marcin Dorocinski

Poland 2013, 118 min..

Wojiech Smarzowski (The Dark House) is arguably the most sought after director in contemporary Poland. TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT  feels like a Polish version of ‘The Wire’, surging forward at a breathless tempo. Bartlomiej Topa plays Ryszard Krol, one of seven friends who serve as traffic cops in Warsaw’s police force. They take bribes, have sex whenever possible and never seem to sleep. Krol is having a steamy affair with his colleague Madecka (Julia Kijowska), but when he finds out by accidence, that his wife is having her own extramarital affair with his friend and colleague Lisowski (Marcin Dorocinski), he goes berserk. After a drunken bender, he ends up in a brothel where he looses consciousness. He wakes up the next morning beaten-up in his car, Lisowski has been murdered during the night and traces of his blood are  found in Krol’s car by the police, during routine inquiries.

Krol and his corrupt officer friends race through the action, even before Krol is forced on the run, the narrative feels frenzied and venal. This is a hard-edged thriller and we are not spared gruesome details of traffic accidents; visits to sordid, but expensive brothels, in contrast to the squalid flats occupied by the officers and their families – not an excuse, but perhaps a reason for their immoral earnings. In spite of the serious tone – contemporary Poland is shown as an ugly cess pit – the director always finds a way for subversive, dark humour: when officer Petrycki, who is always getting freebees from whores, is getting a blow-job in the back of a car driven by Krol, the latter has to brake sharply to avoid running over a group of nuns on a zebra crossing, causing the prostitute to take a mighty bite out of Petrycki’s organ, landing him in the nearest A&E.

Whilst the camera excels in the dominating action sequences, we are drip-fed with little details, that explain the motives of main characters. The light is diffuse at daytime, but most of the film is shot at dusk and dawn, giving the film a noirish element. Editing leaves us with very few calm moments, only when interacting with his football mad son, Krol seems to take a breather. Traffic Department is a butch thriller with muscular, spontaneous performances from all concerned; even the women. It does look like Smarzowski used mostly first takes, adding an authentic feel. Whilst not re-inventing the “wrong man” scenario, Smarzowksi has shown enough bravado to put his own stamp on the genre. AS

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SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2014 AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON 25 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY 2014

Father and Son on a Journey (2013) Ojciec i syn w podrozy Kinoteka 2014

Dir.: Marcel Lozinski

Cast: Marcel Lozinski, Pawel Lozinski; Poland 2013, 75 min.

This journey of a father and his son – both documentary filmmakers – from Warsaw to Paris is a trip into the past and a search for identities. Father Marcel was born in Paris in 1940, his mother was in the French Resistance, and he lived in different children homes, always frightened to lose his mother, even (or particularly) when she was visiting him. His son Pawel was born 25 years later in Warsaw. We see footage from Marcel’s Super 8 camera, showing the young Pawel growing up at home with his parents. But when Pawel was 17, his father left his mother Tamara for another woman, Ania: this trauma is still unresolved for Pawel, and during the journey he tries stubbornly to make his father own up to some moral responsibility for the divorce, particularly since he accuses him of having made him buy the wedding rings for the new couple – an accusation the father strongly denies.

The two travel in a camper van, stopping at camping sites along the route via the Czech Republic (which Marcel still calls Czechoslovakia) and Austria (“they still love order and organisation”), before arriving in Paris, where Marcel had buried the ashes of his mother in a public park in 1964. Two generations clash: Marcel still trying to find his identity, finally settling for Jewish, with Polish and French being relegated to the ranks. He too is still a believer in causes (which he needs, like most of his generation), whilst his son is happy just to care for his family, he accuses his father of being enthralled by the communist system, which turned out to be inhuman, even though “you thought it was fantastic”. Pawel further accuses his father of being a control freak, who has an opinion on everything and interferes with everyone. But, contradicting himself, he admits that his education of his daughters is much more conventional and hierarchic, than his father’s: Marcel treated little Pawel like an equal, not like a son – a fact, which Pawel turns against him “You wanted a little mini-me”.

Somehow a pattern develops: father and son wanted for their children an upbringing neither ending up having. Marcel grew up with parents who were looking very much for stability in their life, “happy not having to live in hiding any more”, whilst Marcel saw his son more as an object of an experiment – who himself in turn, wanted for his family nothing more than ‘normality’. In the end, in spite of unresolved issues, we get a sort of happy-end: father and son cuddling in the grass, the same way they did in Pawel’s childhood.

FATHER AND SON ON A JOURNEY is a very intimate document, the two of them living in a very cramped space, holding the camera alternatively. They stop mostly in the countryside, where they seem to feel free to express their feelings. But the dominant feature is their dialogue and their struggle for dominance: more than once, one of them leaves the scene sulking.  Somehow we end up with the feeling that Marcel’s concept of having a “partner, not a son” has been successful, the two behave very much like a couple – though it would be interesting to see Pawel’s take of this journey: his version (a mere 54 min), edited from the same material as his father’s film is called “Father and Son”. AS

KINOTEKA 2014 RUNS FROM 25 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY

 

 

 

 

 

Lasting (2013) Kinoteka 2014

Director: Jacek Borcuch

Cinematography: Michal Englert (The Congress, Elles, In the Name of)

93mins    Drama      Polish with English subtitles

With its sun-drenched images, palpable sense of heat and lissome lovers with tousled blonde hair, JACEK BORCUCH’S drama LASTING will appeal to art house audiences, capturing the aching lustfulness of first love seen through eyes of two young Polish college graduates (Michal and Karina) who take off for a summer in Spain. LASTING is a dreamy memory of carefree love on the cusp of adulthood and challenged by fate.

Michal and Karina’s relationship is put to the test when a Michal’s chance meeting with a local man in the riverside farm where they are staying with his family, ends in tragedy sending a chill breeze through their sunny idyll and threatening to tear them apart.

Michal Englert uses the same bleached-out aesthetic, slowmo sequences and hazy camerawork that he does so effectively in In the Name of ; to create a timeless picture of Summer heat that is soon intensified by an undercurrent of anxiety, leaving us as bewildered as the protagonists themselves.  Borcuch’s effective use of silence, minimal dialogue and a subtle instrumental score ramps up the tension as the camera observes the fallout of the tragedy and its psychological effect on the young lovers. Once they get back home, it transpires that Karina is harbouring a secret of her own and this additional element starts to have a wearing effect on both their relationship and the pacing of the film. There’s nothing particularly original about Borcuch’s narrative, but the strong, performances and sizzling chemistry of the leads powerful sense of place  make it a romantic drama worth watching. MT

KINOTEKA RUNS UNTIL 30 MAY 2014 AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON

Life Feels Good (2013) Kinoteka 2014

Director/Writer: Maciej Pieprzyca

Dawid Ogrodnik, Doroto Kolak, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Helena Sujecka, Mikolaj Roznerski

107min  Poland  Disability Drama

Based on a true story, LIFE IS GOOD is a touchingly unsentimental portrait of life with cerebral palsy, as experienced by a young Polish man, trying his best to communicate intelligently with his family. On diagnosis, his mother is made brutally aware of his condition with no attempts to soften the blow. But despite the awkwardness and distorted bodily movements of its central character, there is a serene and almost poetic quality to this quietly observed art house piece, enhanced by soft visuals and a pleasant original soundtrack combining classical piano with soft whistling tunes. Through interior monologues we learn how normal his feelings actually are despite his flailing limbs and incoherent utterings. Masterfully played by non-impaired actors, the film manages to evoke the frustration, bewilderment and isolation of disability from all perspectives.

Mateuz (Kamil Tkacz) enjoys an emotionally stable and almost happy childhood surrounded by his traditional family of loving mother (Dorota Kolak) and inspiring father (Arkadiusz Jakubik).  The girl next door (Anna Karcmarczyk) briefly enters his life as he develops into manhood (then played by Dawid Ogrodnik), but a sexual relationship sadly eludes him. Life gets tougher in the asylum where he moves, when his mother is unable to care for him on the death of his father.  There are echoes of MY LEFT FOOT and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY and even ABUSE OF WEAKNESS here. Romance enters his life for the second time in shape of nurse Magda,  and matters start to look up but it is clear that there is also a downside to this interest that is not entirely positive, but adds well-judged, authentic texture to this disability drama with its unexpected elements and upbeat ending. Cleverly evoking the shifting sands between the real person inside and our perception of them through their outward physical being, LIFE FEELS GOOD is a worthwhile and immersive addition to the sub-genre and won the GRAND PRIX at Montreal Film Festival.  MT

SCREENING AS PART OF KINOTEKA 2014 WHICH RUNS FROM 24 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY 2014.

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The Short Films of Walerian Borowczyk Kinoteka 2014

 

Astronauci (The Astronauts) (5)

Walerian Borowczyk (1923-2006) was born in Poland, where he studied painting. His film career started with a series of posters and black and white animated shorts films in collaboration with Jan Lenica. After emigrating to France in 1959 he worked with Chris Marker on LES ASTRONAUTS. In RENAISSANCE (1963), he uses a reverse motion technique to create innovative often violent images: an owl, a trumpet, a desk are pictured breaking into a musical march, and then blown to smithereens.

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE DE GRANDMA EN 13 VOLUMES (1963) is a race involving veteran cars in spectacular collisions on an aqueduct, before encountering a balloon, which comes face to face with a zeppelin. A visual persiflage that is always surprising and different.

les_jeux_des_anges_02

LES JEUX DES ANGES (1964) is homage to the victims of Auschwitz. Cut out graphics show a slow train journey where enigmatic forms emerge: a woman is cut in half, a bird comes out of a grave, covered in grass. Other undefinable objects turn into birds. The forms are distorted, the darkness prevails. Haunting and enigmatic, silence prevails.

LE DICTIONNAIRE DE JOACHIM is much lighter. Joachim is a simply drawn figure of a man trying in vain to find contact with the outside world. Whenever he meets a female figure, he blushes. When he finally meets a real woman, he proposes, then finally commits suicide, only to later emerge from his grave, green grass in his hair. He turns into a bird to the sound of the Marseillaise.

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In GAVOTTE (1967) a dwarf sits on a small easy chair. A huge man takes his chair, and the dwarf sits on bigger chair and finally settles with a pillow on a big chest of drawers; but another dwarf, dressed as a servant, removes him. The two get into a fight, then the servant lands in the chest of drawers, so our hero can rest again on his pillow. All this hectic action is acted out to the peaceful sound of a gavotte.

THEATRE DE MONSIEUR & MADAM KABUL/LE CONCERT (1962) is a battle of the sexes. Madame Kabul is tall and has a hook like a bird. She plays the piano, her arm suddenly becomes elongated. For a second she changes into a beautiful woman cutting her husband into parts and stuffing them into the piano. But he escapes and is put together again, acquiring many more legs in the process. An eccentric contemplation on music and marriage.

diptyque_03

DIPTYQUE (1967) is a reflection in two parts. In the first half, a silent b/w film, we see an old man ploughing his field. A dog follows him faithfully. Then the man drives home to his village in a vintage car. Documentary in form with no flourishes apart from a sentimental score, the second part sees the action reversed: a vase with flowers, a sweet kitten playing with a ball of string. An analytic juxtaposition of opposites, both contents-wise and aesthetically.

rosalie_02

ROSALIE (1966) is based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story of the same name. Rosalie, a servant girl, has killed her twin babies and buries them in a garden. She can’t afford to bring them up on her meagre salary. During the court hearing it transpires that a male member of her family is responsible for the kids, but hotly denies his paternity, and the girl is released. Borowczyk’s wife, the actress Ligia Branice (who would later star in his feature films), lends her face and voice to this heart-breaking story. Apart from her face we see objects from a shop, with price tags, showing how little chance Rosalie stood of raising her children. Simple, but very moving. AS

AVAILABLE COURTESY OF ARROWFILMS.COM AMAZON.CO.UK

 

Rose (2011) Kinoteka 2021

Dir: Wojciech Smarzowski | Writer: Michal Szczerbic | Cast: Marcin Dorocinski, Agata Kulesza, Malwina Buss, Kinga Preis, Jacek Braciak, Marian Dziedziel | 90min    War Drama

Wojciech Smarzowski’s bleak feature set in 1945, brings to light a largely unknown slice of Polish history: the post Second World War persecution of the Mazurians who first colonised north-eastern Poland.

Rose is a brutal and unremittingly harrowing story of war, love and loss. To say it’s a romantic narrative is partly true but in the real sense that it evokes strong feeling, individual aspiration and a way of thinking. And this aspiration is bound up with a sense of pride and belonging for Rose (Agata Kuleska), a woman who has lost her land and national identity to the Germans and her husband to the ravages of war. Living alone in a isolated farmhouse she is just about surviving, the last knockings of war raging around her, framed by Piota Sobocinski’s masterful but stark visuals.

And into this setting steps Tedeusz (Marcin Dorocinski). His wife has been raped and killed and he has witnessed the murder of Rose’s husband and comes to report his death. The reception Rose gives him is frosty to say the least and if ever there was a more unlikely backdrop to a relationship it is this one. An uncertain pairing then; if ever there was one, but believable.  Rose is certainly a film worth seeing despite its almost unrelenting gloom hauntingly scored by Mikolaj Trzaska’s poignant soundtrack. MT

ROSE WILL BE SCREENING during KINOTEKA on BFI Player

 

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