Archive for the ‘Polish Film’ Category

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


The Hater | Sala Samobojcow Nejter (2020) **** Netflix

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Maciej Musialowski, Gabi Krasucka, Danuta Stenka, Jacek Koman, Agata Kulesza, Adam Grandowski, Maciej Stuhr, Piotr Biedrom; Poland 2020, 135 min.

Polish director Jan Komasa (here teaming up with again with his script writer Mateusz Pacewicz from Corpus Christi fame), goes from strength to strength, his latest outing Hater, a blend of sexual and party politics, went on to win this year’s Best International Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca.

It follows Tomasz (a strong Maciej Musialowski) who has just been sent down from his Law studies for plagiarism, and is licking his wounds in the company of God parents Robert (Koman) and Zofia (Stenka) and their daughter Gabi (Aleksander) in their plush Warsaw flat. Leaving his mobile behind on purpose so he can eavesdrop on their negative comments about him, he is left deflated. Their relationship goes back a long way, the Krasuckas and Tomasz’ family often holidayed together, and the young man has always carried a candle for Gabi, who is already involved, and has dropped out of university due to drug problems.

Tomasz is hungry for affection from the Krasuckas, but also hell bent on revenge. He joins the social media agency run by the devious Beata Santorska (Kulesza), and soon he is on the staff of liberal politician Pawel Rudnicki (Stuhr), who is running for mayor, Krasucka family are among his main followers. Tomasz wins Rudnicki’s trust, the young man ‘thanking’ him by luring the seemingly bi-sexual candidate into an LGTB club. But the scandal doesn’t impact negatively on Rudnicki. Then Tomasz goes for broke, arranging a march by Rudnicki’s supporters next to a “White Power” demonstration. Failing again, he uses his last ace, Stephan ‘Guzek’ (Grandowski), a mentally impaired right-wing weapons addict. The ensuing bloodbath is nothing compared with the brilliant twist at the end.

Tomasz is a baby-faced psychopath who does everything to undermine the Krasuckas, but still is desperate for Gabi’s love. There is a world of difference between Tomasz’ behaviour at work (where he cruelly dismisses his former boss Kamil, having overtaken him in usefulness for Beata), and his miserable home life. Tomasz is almost reduced to tears when Gabi leaves with her new boyfriend for New York. Komasa shows how social media can become the last resort for the frustrated, masochistic loser, desperate for revenge and needy of love. DoP Radek Ladczuk’s hard-edged images leave nothing to the imagination: Kieslowski would have been proud of his soulless city where superficial consumerism and racist hatred has replaced the drabness of Stalinism. AS



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



Blind Chance (1987) | Now on Blu-ray

PRZYPADEK (BLIND CHANCE) 1987 | was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s most direct attack on the authorities, produced in 1981, it was shown only “underground” for six years. A sort of Sliding Doors narrative, it is one of the few films that manages to be deeply affecting right from its opening sequence. It tells the story of Witek Dlugosz (Boguslaw Linda), born in 1956 in Posen. His father had participated in the uprising and moved to Lodz, where Witek went to school and started to study medicine. After his father died with the words “you don’t have to do what you don’t want to”, Witek decides to take a gap year, and takes the train to Warsaw. The three endings hinge on whether or not he catches his train. Version one sees him leaving the station, and arriving in Warsaw, where he starts a career as a party functionary. In the second variation, he misses the train, than fights with a railway policeman, and becomes a fervent opponent of the system. In the last version, he again misses the train, but meets a friend from university. The couple get married, and Witek lives a life faraway from strife and politics.

When, at the end, Witek has to fly to Libya for work reasons, he changes his mind at the last minute in a decision that has disastrous consequences. Kieslowski said in an interview that the last scene was proof “that the plane is waiting for all three ‘Witold’s’. All their lives end in the plane. The plane is waiting for him all the time. But, really, the plane is waiting for all of us”. Ironically, when BLIND CHANCE was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, to be shown “out of competition”, Kieslowski enquired, why the film was not to be shown ‘in competition’. Gilles Jacob, artistic director of the festival, answered in a letter that he feared the film would not be understood by the audience. So Kieslowski cut some political scenes from the film and sent the new copy back with the label “For the French censors” – which failed to change Jacob’s mind. Last year the digitally remastered BLIND CHANCE was shown in the Classics Strand at Salle Debussy during the 67th Cannes Film Festival, proudly introduced by Kieslowski’s daughter.



Krzysztof Kieslowski – Early works on Blu-ray

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) brings a raw emotional simplicity to his films that disarm even the hardest heart. Nothing is overstated or irrelevant in his sober depictions of human life during the last thirty years of Polish communism.  Starting his career as a documentarian, by the mid 1970s a novel by Romuald Karas was to inspire his first feature The Scar (1976).


Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Frantisek Pieczka, Marius Dmochowski, Jerzy Stuhr, Halina Winiarski; Poland 1976, 106 min.

In the small Polish city of Olechov, the local party committee decides to build a huge chemical complex. The project is forced through despite the local fear of environmental fallout. Stephan Bednarz (Pieczaka) heads up the project. A very straightforward and honest Party man, he and his wife (Winiarski) used to live in the area and had some unpleasant experiences there, although the exact nature of these is not alluded too. Bednarz is responsible to the Party boss (Dmochowski), who has his hands full with infighting in his many sub-committees. Stephan’s wife (Winiarski) has been very sceptical from the beginning, along with his assistant (Stuhr). Everyone wants a piece of the action, and Stephan is buried under an avalanche of complaints. Kieslowski and DoP Slawomir Idziak handle the crowd scenes very well, as the focus narrows on Stuhr’s assistant. Fans will appreciate this dour slice of social realism made starker by Kieslowski’s documentary style which lacks humour or even irony. A bleak start for the director’s dramatic career.


Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zablonska, Ewa Pacas; Poland 1979/80, 112 min.

Camera Buff is a much more human affair. Kieslowski, co-writes in a drama that concentrates on the individuals, the society issues melting into the background. Remarkably, Kieslowski had five DoPs sharing camera duties. The story revolves around Filip Mosz (Stuhr) who has bought himself a an eight millimetre camera to film the birth of his daughter. He takes his new hobby seriously: When his daughter falls off her chair, he continues to shoot oblivious. “Would you have gone on filming, had she fallen off the balcony?” asks his wife Irka (Zablosnka). As his talent develops, his boss asks Filip to be the official chronicler of Party activities. With responsibility comes privilege, and the “man with the camera” turns into more than just an observer: When he shoots the workers mending the pavement, he does so from his balcony – symbolising his new empowerment. Family life takes a back seat and he belittles his wife when she walks out on him: “I saw you walking away. You looked so small. I will always see you like this”. Filip is proud to be a chronicler, but, as one of his friends puts it “filmmakers are service providers”. His new sense of entitlement blinds him to his obligations to society. Total autonomy and independence are illusions, as Julie will find out in Three Colours Blue.


Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Grazyna Szapolska, Maria Pakulniss, Alexander Bardini, Danny Webb; Poland, 107 min.

Even though playful at times, No End is a serious story, the narrative’s absurdist elements never overshadow the sober nature of the human struggle at the film’s core. The main character Ursula Zyro (Szpolska) has lost her lawyer husband Antek (Radziwilowicz) to a heart attack. And Antek faces the camera in the opening scene describing the moments surrounding his death on the way to take their son Jack to school. He was set to defend a man accused of organising activities for the repressed Solidarity movement during a time of draconian martial law in Poland. Ulla, an English translator, currently working on ‘the’ Orwell project, feels guilty, because their marriage had been going through a bad patch. Ulla reaches out to an American tourist (Webb) and they sleep together even though he doesn’t even speak Polish, but Ulla shares her grief all  the same. Meanwhile, the activist’s case is taken up by an old lawyer called Labrador (Bardini), who had been Antek’s teacher, but is now rather cynical, convincing his new client to agree a plea bargaining sentence. Meanwhile, Antek comes back to haunt proceedings as a ghost, still talking directly to the camera and watching over Ulla and Jacek. At one point he is seen stroking a dark Labrador (sic). It’s amazing that No End got through the Communist censors and made it to cinema screens. Ironically, the only criticism came from the opposition parties and the Catholic Church. No End was Kieslowski’s first time collaboration with scriptwriter Krzyszof Piesewicz, a partnership that was to last until the end of Kieslowski’s career – and further. The two worked together on three scripts before the director’s death. These were filmed by Tom Tykwer, Stanislaw Mucha and Danis Tanovic, in the first years after the new millennium. AS



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



Mr Jones (2021) Ukrainian Relief

Dir: Agnieszka Holland | Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Fenella Woolgar, Kenneth Cranham, Celyn Jones, Krzysztof Pieczyński, Michalina Olszańska, Patricia Volny | Poland, United Kingdom, Ukraine 2019 | Cinematography: Tomasz Naumiuk, Editing: Michał Czarnecki | Music: Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz | 141′

This riveting romp through Russian history follows a young Welsh journalist who ventured into the Soviet Union in 1933 to discover the sinister background to Stalin’s Communist regime. Stalin was feeding Moscow while millions of Ukrainians were dying of famine due to forced state control of their farms and food. Andrea Chalupa has been developing the script for 14 years, conflating the story with that of Animal Farm, based on her own book: Orwell and the Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm.

The man in question is Gareth Jones (Norton), a respected attache of Lloyd George (Cranham) who sets off for Moscow where he comes up against pro-Stalin press supremo and Pulitzer prize-winner Walter Duranty (a cold-eyed Sarsgaard) tasked with keeping the famine under wraps from the World.

During his stay, Duranty invites Jones to luxuriate in the excesses of the State budget, but the Welsh gentleman gracefully declines, preferring the intellectual stimulation of one Ada Brooks, a journalist for the New York Times, and in thrall to Duranty. Against advice from all sides, Jones then makes a perilous journey south and nearly dies himself of hunger- and Holland makes this second act a gruelling one to impress upon us the suffering endured by the rural population, women and children. Jones then exposes the story to the World, via Randolph Heart, putting Sarsgaard’s nose out of joint. But tragedy is to follow – as it often does when Russian secrets are shared.

Holland’s ambitious attempt to pull the various strands together leaves a subplot showing Orwell writing Animal Farm slightly adrift, and the use of montage to invigorate the various train journeys is rather hammy. But the entertainment factor rides over the structural imperfections and superb performances make this a really entertaining romp. Norton is simply brilliant as Jones, a decent and persevering professional gifted with integrity and a pioneering spirit. Kirby also shines as the conflicted woman at the centre of the furore. In thrall to Duranty, she shuts down Jones’ romantic advances, unable to develop them, despite their chemistry. There is great support from Fenella Woolgard; Kenneth Cranham does Lloyd George with a charming Welsh accent; and Sarsgaard seethes with shifty antagonism tempered by a veneer of supercilious charm.

Shot in Poland, Scotland (not Wales) and in original locations in the snowbound Ukraine, the homecoming scenes in Barry with Jones and his father are particularly poignant. Chulapa’s script and dialogue shows an acute English sensibility. It’s a mammoth achievement. Agnieszka Holland works with her Polish craftsman to make this a thoroughly engrossing experience which flashes by despite a running time of over two hours. MT


Corpus Christi (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycenbel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Zdzislas Wurdejn, Lukasz Simlat, Poland 2019, 115 min

Director Jan Komasa (Warsaw ’44) adapts Mateusz Palewicz’s extraordinary story about a 20-year-old juvenile criminal impersonating a priest in Poland. In small town Jasliska, just south of Krakow, the past is catching up with the townspeople forcing them out of the past and into the present. Piotr Sobocinski brings the whole thing to life with his vibrant camerawork reflecting the prejudices of provincial life in this intricate and outstanding feature drama.

Twenty year old Daniel (Bielenia) lives in a juvenile correction institution where he experiences something of a spiritual awakening under the influence of one of the more charismatic priests Tomasz (Simlat) whose sermons have a such a dramatic effect of the young man he feels a calling towards the priesthood. Sadly his criminal past bars him from taking the cloth. Unperturbed, Daniel sets out  his destination, where he is to join a sawmill, owned by Walkiewicz, a friend of Tomasz. One glimpse of the place from the outside is enough for Daniel to change his mind. In church he meets Eliza (Ryembed), the daughter of Lidia (Komieczna), who helps the resident priest Golap (Wurdejn). Daniel tells Eliza that he is a priest, producing the full regalia stolen from Tomasz, and they agree to take him on.

Whilst Daniel learns about taking confession from the internet on his mobile, he is drawn into a recent tragedy: six young people died in a head-on collision with a car, driven by an alcoholic called Slawek. It was forbidden to bury Slawek in the cemetery, and his wife Barbara (Kurzaj) and the victim’s relatives have made sure the priests stick to their word. Although Eliza’s brother was one of the victims, she has doubts about Slawek’s guilt. Daniel too feels Slawek was hard done by and proposes to bury Slawek in the local cemetery. But Walkiewicz wants to keep his workers happy, and again opposes the plan. And he is not the only one. Daniel meets resistance from Pinczer (Zietek), whose brother he killed in a fight.

Komasa changes the perception of Palewicz’s novel subtly: whilst Daniel believes in his role, and tries to be humble, the majority of his parish show anything but Christian spirit and only a few following Slawek’s coffin to the grave. Corpus Christi is a mature, wise and refreshing portrait of religious bigotry, emotionally enthralling the audience for the whole two hours. AS



Werewolf (2018) ***

Dir.: Adrian Panek; Cast: Kamil Polnisak, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Nicolas Przygoda; Poland/Netherlands/Germany 2018, 88 min

Inspired by real-life, historical events, writer and director Adrian Panek turns the nightmare of the Holocaust onto a motley group of children who are still alive in the last knockings of the war. One-part survival horror, one-part wartime thriller with a dash of coming-of-age drama, Werewolf is an unconventional yet haunting contemporary dark fable. But its use of young Concentration Camp survivors – in what is basically a horror film featuring vicious German Shepherd dogs – is rather questionable.

In the final days before liberation by the Red Army, the guards in the Gross-Rosen Camp in South-west Poland kill some of the survivors, others are bitten to death by the Alsatians. Young Wladek (Polnisak) is a prisoner who ingratiates himself with the guards, voluntarily throwing himself to the ground and jumping up shouting Auf (Up) and Nieder (down), to please his masters. After he survives along with seven much younger children, they are taken to the the sinister cottage belonging to enigmatic Jadwiga (Stenka) deep in the woods where Jadwiga is killed under mysterious circumstances. The children soon start to run out of food but are forced to remain in the remote house under the leadership of twenty-year old Hanka (Mietielica), due to the wild dogs circling outside, baying for blood. When one of the invading Russian soldiers tries to rape Hanka – with the clear acquiescence of Wladek who is jealous that Hanka prefers the outsider Hanys (Przygoda) to him – he saves the young woman. Wladek seems to be able to communicate with the dogs, before Hanys removes his striped uniform, making the dogs obey him.

Panek clearly objectifies the survivors, with Wladek becoming more mean as the films goes on. Survival depends on living by their wits and the victims cannily comply with their captors. But Werewolf goes a step further, and denounces Wladek as completely wicked. Unfortunately, many Poles were complicit in the murder of their Jewish countrymen – one estimate by the historian Grabowski talks of over 200 000 cases, ending with the deportation or death of Jews. But between the liberation of 1944 and 1946, over 2000 Jews, often Camp survivors, were murdered by Poles – some forty at the first post-war pogrom in Kielce in July 1946. The nationalist government of today has tried to block out any discussion, making it a crime to speak about Polish collaboration, before rescinding the law. Panek’s treatment of Wladek and the other survivors (relegating them to fairground objects) is just another example of the difficulty Poland has with its Jewish history. AS

Werewolf is out on 30 September 2019 (UK & Ireland)

Nationwide from 20 September 2019

A Short Film About Killing (1988) | KROTKI FILM O ZABIJANIU

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Miroslaw Baka, Krzyztof Globisz | Poland 1988, 84 min.

So powerful was the effect of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s graphic description of violence in eighties Warsaw that the Polish authorities declared a five-year moratorium on capital punishment. Forty minutes go by before the first murder: a nearly botched attempt, mercilessly shown in all the gory detail. The second killing is just the opposite: a professional job, executed by the hangman in cold blood, but much more gruesome than the first one. A rope is used in both cases, but there all similarities end.

Jacek (Baka) is a young man lost in the high-rise concrete that is Warsaw in 1988. The camera encircles him like an animal in a laboratory. He is alienated, has lost nearly all contact to friends and family, life has been sucked out of him. When he kills the taxi driver without an obvious motive it may seem senseless to the audience, but for Jacek it is only just one more unexplainable act in a chain of events he cannot comprehend any more. Jacek’s lawyer in the forthcoming murder trial, Piotr Balicki, (Globisz) is just his opposite. Not much older than the murderer he is defending, Piotr has just finished law school and is a ferocious opponent of the death penalty. He is full of idealism with his life stretching out in front of him in a clear path: he wants to do good. But he too will be scarred by the case; he stands no chance in the courtroom and for the rest of his life he will suffer from this defeat.

Kieslowski shows a grim world; children play with dead cats in dark backyards – the light seems a predominantly nauseous green, as in a  morgue. Jacek is a product of this society – we should not be surprised that he acts out his inner hollowness in this way. Many reviewers saw this film as a condemnation of the death penalty (which was only abolished in Poland in 1997), but it is more realistic to assume that Kieslowski wanted to show that Stalinism had hit rock bottom – a year before the system finally collapsed.

Both leads give dynamite performances. The camera shows this Dantesque Inferno with panoramic shots and close-ups. Jacek is cold-eyed and ashen-faced throughout. The portrait of a dying world in which murder, in whichever form it takes, is as normal as clocking-in for work. AS


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



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



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. 


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. 


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.

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.


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.


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). 


Nina (2018) **

Dir.: Olga Chajdas; Cast: Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrzej Konopka; Poland 2018, 122 min.

This hit and miss debut drama from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas struggles with an illogical narrative, despite some positive elements. 

French teacher Nina (Kijowska) desperately wants a child despite her failing marriage to Wotjek (Konopka), a car mechanic. In order to find the ideal surrogate mother the couple embark on a bizarre strategy: reversing their car into a prospective surrogate’s car, they then offer the victim a cost free repair at Wotjek’s garage and make a connection. And it’s during one of these ill-conceived escapades that Nina meets Magda (Rycembel), an airport security guard with an active lesbian sex life. Nina falls head over heels for the androgynous young woman but Wotjek, feeling left out, reacts with a violent assault on Magda. Nina then gets cold feet, after a confrontation with one of Madga’s ex-lovers with the whole debacle culminating in a positive conclusion. 

Strangely enough some of strongest scenes in NINA take place away from the central lesbian love affair. But while the lovers somehow lack a certain chemistry, Rycembel’s performance as the hot to trot initiator of the sensitive sexual encounter scenes has a lot going for it. And this is what makes Nina unique in spite of its hapless narrative. DoP Tomasz Naumiuk does a great job of recording the wild goings on with his mobile handheld images. There are also some extremely beautiful snowy landscapes.

At Rotterdam Film Festival 2018, where NINA won the VPRO Big Screen Award, Chajdas talked about the repressive new government and the lack of a gay club scene in Poland – so so she makes this a more colourful feature of her drama than reality permits.  AS


Cold War (2018) ***** Winner Best Film | European Film Awards 2018

Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski | Cast| Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Syzc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Khan, Jeanne Balibar | Drama | Poland

This beguilingly sexy and sad paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere portrays the euphoria we yearn for but cannot always sustain. Cold War spans a decade from the 1940s to the1960s where two lovers are caught inextricably in a web of passion and pain in a peripatetic relationship that saunters back and forth between Paris, Warsaw and Yugoslavia between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig). Pawlikowski deftly handles love’s heartaches, high and lows with supreme grace and elegance.

Apart from the dazzling artistry – each frame is a sultry masterpiece – one of the most atmospheric elements and one that becomes a character in itself is the music, from Polish and Slavic folksongs to Chopin, Gerswin and Chuck Berry bringing back memories of Polish fare of the 1950s and 1960s scored by Andrzej Trzaskowski and Krzysztof Komeda, but also unites drama with his documentary fare such as Serbian Epics (1992)

Shot in Academy-ratio, Lukasz Zal’s velvety black and white cinematography evokes the 16mm of the era, and its Iron Curtain sensibilities link it to Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning gem Ida, although this is a more upbeat affair. Love and longing are themes that flourish throughout the director’s films from his time in England, where he shot Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004), and the ephemeral nature of The Woman in the Fifth (2011). Pawlikowski’s work also has affinities with the films of Czech New Wave director Hugo Haas. The only subtle flaws is the abrupt departure of Wiktor’s lover Irena (Agata Kulesza)who either leaves through her disgust of Stalin or on seeing her partner caught in the fire of his new flame. But this by no means detracts from its sublime beauty as a concise yet richly-textured piece of work, and every gorgeous handmade tapestry has its endearing flaws. Flowing yet episodic, Cold War is melancholy but endlessly captivating.

Wiktor and Zula are united by music while he and Irena are curating an ethnomusicological project for dancers which morphs into an the Mazurek Ensemble, an agitprop of the Soviet regime promoting the Aryan heritage of the Poles. Lust envelops them but Kaczmarek’s career keeps him trapped in Communist Poland and when the ensemble travels to East Berlin to perform, Wiktor decides to defect to the West pleading Zula to come with him to Paris. The two profess undying love but flighty Zula bails at the last minute and stays behind in the East. Although she a mercurial woman she lacks the social confidence that Wiktor has inherited from his more grounded bourgeois background.

There is a deliciously spicy vignette where Jeanne Balibar plays Wiktor’s Parisian lover while Zula arrives at the party claiming to have married a Sicilian glass blower from Palermo. But it is clear that Wiktor and Zula are soul mates whose love transcends time and place. They are eventually drawn back together at the end of the 50s but their love cannot exist in this Cold War world with its privations, poverty and political regime. MT.


Totem (2018)

Dir.: Jakub Charon; Cast: Karol Bernacki, Malgorzata Krukowska, Joanna Majstrak, Milan Skrobic, Michal Sobota, Jolanta Juszkiewicz; Poland 2017, 118′.

Director/writer Jakub Charon has chosen the milieu of small town gangsters in his native Poland for his debut feature, an uneven and often ultra-brutal thriller that suffers from its incoherent script and a self-indulgent length.

Brothers Dziki (Bernacki) and Igor (Sobolweski) have an uneasy relationship: the much younger Dziki served a two years sentence for his brother, and on his return, he expects some reward, particularly, for looking after their mentally unbalanced mother (Juszkiewicz) and his brother’s baby. To complicate matters, Dziki is secretly in love with Ewa (Majstrak), who helps him looking after mother and baby. But Dziki is also in charge of his brother’s prostitutes and one in particular is Dagmara (Kruskowska), who he fancies. After Dagmara is raped by clients, she opens up about a heist Igor has planned involving a huge stash of narcotics from the powerful Serbian Mafia. Dziki’s friend Olaf (Skrobic) tries to help, but after a seemingly endless bloodbath, he and Igor meet a tragic end. Dziki sets the parental home ablaze before a last, unnecessary, act of violence closes this testosterone driven debut.

The continuous onslaught of gratuitous rampant violence makes TOTEM a tough watch to sit through – it’s clear what Charon had in mind, but he fails miserably as it careens out of control. The acting is convincing, and DoP Piotr Pawlus does a great job behind the camera – but in the end his images are as overblown as the whole project, a mixture of parody and overkill, which has about as many redeeming features as the male protagonists.AS



Fugue | Fuga (2018) **** | Cannes Film Festival 2018 | Un Certain Regard

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.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. For Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also plays the lead, Kinga/Alicja, 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 her 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 us another circuitous 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.


Cold War | Zimna Wojna (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | IN Competition

Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski | Cast| Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Syzc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Khan, Jeanne Balibar | Drama | Poland

This beguilingly sexy and sad paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere portrays the euphoria we yearn for but cannot always sustain. Cold War spans a decade from the 1940s to the1960s where two lovers are caught inextricably in a web of passion and pain in a peripatetic relationship that saunters back and forth between Paris, Warsaw and Yugoslavia between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig). Pawlikowski deftly handles love’s heartaches, high and lows with supreme grace and elegance.

Apart from the dazzling artistry – each frame is a sultry masterpiece – one of the most atmospheric elements and one that becomes a character in itself is the music, from Polish and Slavic folksongs to Chopin, Gerswin and Chuck Berry bringing back memories of Polish fare of the 1950s and 1960s scored by Andrzej Trzaskowski and Krzysztof Komeda, but also unites drama with his documentary fare such as Serbian Epics (1992)

Shot in Academy-ratio, Lukasz Zal’s velvety black and white cinematography evokes the 16mm of the era, and its Iron Curtain sensibilities link it to Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning gem Ida, although this is a more upbeat affair. Love and longing are themes that flourish throughout the director’s films from his time in England, where he shot Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004), and the ephemeral nature of The Woman in the Fifth (2011). Pawlikowski’s work also has affinities with the films of Czech New Wave director Hugo Haas. The only subtle flaws is the abrupt departure of Wiktor’s lover Irena (Agata Kulesza)who either leaves through her disgust of Stalin or on seeing her partner caught in the fire of his new flame. But this by no means detracts from its sublime beauty as a concise yet richly-textured piece of work, and every gorgeous handmade tapestry has its endearing flaws. Flowing yet episodic, Cold War is melancholy but endlessly captivating.  

Wiktor and Zula are united by music while he and Irena are curating an ethnomusicological project for dancers which morphs into an the Mazurek Ensemble, an agitprop of the Soviet regime promoting the Aryan heritage of the Poles. Lust envelops them but Kaczmarek’s career keeps him trapped in Communist Poland and when the ensemble travels to East Berlin to perform, Wiktor decides to defect to the West pleading Zula to come with him to Paris. The two profess undying love but flighty Zula bails at the last minute and stays behind in the East. Although she a mercurial woman she lacks the social confidence that Wiktor has inherited from his more grounded bourgeois background. 

There is a deliciously spicy vignette where Jeanne Balibar plays Wiktor’s Parisian lover while Zula arrives at the party claiming to have married a Sicilian glass blower from Palermo. But it is clear that Wiktor and Zula are soul mates whose love transcends time and place. They are eventually drawn back together at the end of the 50s but their love cannot exist in this Cold War world with its privations, poverty and political regime. MT.


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


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Loving Vincent (2017) * * * *

Dir: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman | With Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd | Animated Biography |  Poland | UK | 94′

Seven years in the making LOVING VINCENT is a mini-masterpiece from directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Each of the 65,000 frames is hand-painted in the style of Van Gogh’s own work, to explore the mystery behind his tragic death. The film makes a superb companion piece to Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing that highlighted the close relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo, told through their extensive correspondence. Other films about the famous post-impressionist painter are Vincent & Theo and Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh. But this animated biopic drama sheds light on the controversy surrounding Vincent’s fatal gunshot wound, suggesting the possibility of murder.

Despite his prolific output of 800 paintings in fewer that ten years, Van Gogh was only 37 when he ended his troubled life in July 1890, during his stay in the countryside boarding house of the Famille Revoux in Auvers-sur-Oise,  Northern France. Although the performances are entirely animated, it is possible to identify the actors playing their roles due to the astonishing likeness of their animated counterparts. LOVING VINCENT glows with a ravishing lucidity to create a story that feels intriguing, intimate and heartfelt in its gentle examination of the facts behind Van Gogh’s turbulent final months and his early childhood memories, revealing the painter’s sorrowful ‘sadness at not amounting to anything’. Van Gogh is played by Polish actor Robert Gulaczyk and the detective work is done by Douglas Booth’s slightly sleazy Armand Roulin, who as the postman’s son, is the least convincing element of this highly inventive and enjoyable exposé. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY  from 12 February 2018 


The Last Stage | Ostatni etap (1948) Mubi

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.

Jakubowska’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


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


Planet Single (2016) | Kinoteka 2017 | 17 March – 26 April

Dir.: Mitja Okorn; Cast: Agnieszka Wiedlocla, Maciej Suhr, Piotr Glowacki, Weronika Ksiezkiewicz, Tomasz Karolak, Michel Czernek, Danuta Stenka; Poland 2016, 136 min.

Director Mitja Okorn’s portrait of contemporary Polish society is a bitter farce about a nation in the grip of media mania, where everybody lives on their smartphones scrambling for public success.

Ania (Wiedlocla), a timid music teacher, and TV host Tomek (Suhr) could not be much more different at the outset. Fighting for a place in the sun on all levels: at school she has to share the gymnasium with boisterous boys, who drown out her class with their ball games,  and at home, she is repressed by her mother (Stenka), who has not to come to terms with the death of her husband, and is needy for attention despite Ania sacrificing a career as a concert pianist to look after her.

Tomek is cocksure to begin with, but his bravado – usually in form of obnoxious, misogynist remarks in front of the camera – is hollow. The TV presenter relies totally on his producer Marcel (Glowacki), who he has copied since secondary school. Tomek picks Ania as one of his contestants for his TV Internet dating show, where he uses a puppet to represent the put-upon music teacher. Meanwhile, Ania’s best friend Ola (Ksiazkiewicz), married to the bone-headed Bogdan (Karolak), is set up by her step daughter, the teenager hoping to get rid of Ola. Ania ends up falling for Antoni (Czerneck), a grieving widower with a little daughter, who joins Ania’s class. But Tomek becomes jealous and wants to sabotage their relationship.

Just when the story is heading for happy-endings all around, destroying everything shown before, a surprising turn of events proves the shallowness of the characters who, sadly, prove to be as shallow and self-seeking as the premise suggests. Below the saccharine coating of the jokes and over-the-top gags THE SINGLE LIFE is suffused with bitterness, and there is a palpable sense of disillusionment with a society that encourages personal and professional success to be played out to the greatest possible audience. DoP Tomasz Madejski (The mighty Angel) conjures up brilliant images at TV the Station (with a viciously ruthless station boss), and behind closed doors, where people imitate their professional counterparts desperately searching for recognition and positive ratings, spinning their own stories with great aplomb. Enjoyable and illuminating, but at 136 minutes far too self-indulgent.


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


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



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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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 High Frontier (2016) | Fantastic Fest | Austin, Texas

Writer|Dir: Wojciech Kasperski Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Marcin Dorocinski | Thriller | Poland | 98min

Andrzej Chyra (In the Name 0f) and Marcin Dorocinski (Anthropoid) are the stars of this stylish survival thriller that makes great use of stunning snowbound locations and an atmospheric soundtrack in a trekking holiday that turns into a sinister endurance test for a family of three.

Chyra is Mateusz a former frontier official who is keen to toughen up his teenage boys and teach them the meaning of machismo through heavy drinking bouts and stiff walks through the remote snowscapes and hostile terrain of Poland’s border with Ukraine.

The trip gets off to an inauspicious start when their truck hits a deer on the way to the wood cabin that is to be their remote retreat and the claustrophobic setting for this unsettling nail-biter. Shortly after they arrive the mood turns tense when Janek (Bartosz Bielenia) and Tomek (Kuba Henriksen) open the door to a bloodied and bruised man called Konrad (Marcin Dorociński), who promptly collapses at their feet. Mateusz ventures into the permafrost to look for Konrad’s vehicle and discovers more injured survivors of a serious crash, But while he is gone, the teenagers find themselves having to deal with Konrad who turns out to be a vicious psychopath, despite his life-threatening injuries, and by the end it’s clear that someone is going to die.

Debut director Wojciech Kasperski certainly knows how to generate an unsettling ambience with a sinister soundtrack and DoP Lukasz Zal (IDA) supports the story with his impressive camerawork complimenting the remote locations and edgy standoff between Konrad and the boys. But his script sadly lets him down and leaves the boys robbed of any personality – let alone masculinity – until the final scenes. And with Andrzej Chyra gone for most the running time, the emphasis is on Dorocinski to carry the action forward almost singlehandedly  – apart from a scene featuring Andrzej Grabowski (Lechu) – with Bielenia and Henriksen paling into insignificance as sappy teenagers in rather underwritten roles. It is never made clear why Konrad is free to be travelling with the truck that overturned or why Lechu suddenly turns up at the cabin in its isolated location. The film picks up in the final act where a corruscating finale is the payoff for those who stay the course of this relentlessly gruelling story. MT




United States of Love | Zjednoczone Stany Miłosci| Silver Bear | Best Script | Berlinale 2016

Director: Tomasz Wasilewski (Floating Skyscrapers)

Cast: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Łukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra, Tomek Tyndyk

Drama | Poland / Sweden 

After the festival success of 2013s Floating Skyscrapers, Tomasz Wasilewski returns with UNITED STATES OF LOVE; which had its world premiere at the 66th Berlinalé. Mining similar themes that include a pessimistic representation of emotional entrapment and the effects of such situations.

The film opens in Poland, 1990. The huge changes are brewing and percolating. The first euphoric year of freedom, but hovering is the idea of the unknown. An attempt to create a state of the nation micro epic, Wasilewski focuses on four women of different ages who ponder the central premise of existential action to please themselves. Agata is a young mother, trapped in an unhappy marriage, who seeks refuge in another, impossible relationship with a young priest. Renata is an older teacher fascinated with her neighbor Marzena – a lonely former local beauty queen, whose husband works in Germany. Marzena’s sister Iza is a headmistress in love with the father of one of her students.

The four stories overlap and intersect at various points but none strikes an emotionally fulfilling enterprise. The film seems a collection of much mocked eastern European art house tropes which we have seen before and been better handled by superior filmmakers. Expertly shot (by ace Romanian DoP Oleg Mutu) and with very strong performances by the four central actresses, you are very much left with the idea that the film is not the sum of its parts.

It is obvious that Wasilewski is attempting to move the big table of Polish art house greats but one comes away thinking that all he has been successful in is strip mining visual iconography and thematic questions and answers of a specific time and place. In all the qualities the film presents the female perspective is the most startling and welcome but again one feels that these female characters are laid naked (both metaphorically and literally) but ultimately for cynical and self-serving reasons.

In the role of Renata (expertly played by Dorota Kolak) we are faced with the one time in the film that Wasilewski gets to a point that passes his rigid distancing devices but typically he manages to drop the ball with an act of doubling that he probably thinks is a coup de cinema but only comes across as yet another international art trope that he hasn’t deserved to present.

UNITED STATES OF LOVE is not a lost cause and for that matter neither is the director. There is plenty here to interest; whether that be an all-encompassing melancholia or the stellar female performances. In retrospect he needs to lose the affluence of influence and head for pastures new that will enhance his obvious talents. D M Mault.




Cosmos (2015) | Best Director Locarno 2015| Kinoteka 2016

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

France/Portugal​ Comedy ​100mins

Andrzej Zulawski gets in and amongst it with COSMOS, his first feature in 15 years. This French-language adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s 1965 novel is a top-to-bottom fever dream, extending the Polish filmmaker’s penchant for mania with an exceptionally reference-heavy tale of wham-bam obsession. Seconds in and we have a melodramatic score, jolting jump-cuts, opaque voiceover, plush pans and a narrative that proceeds onward like a furious sprint through a theatrical downpour. What’s not to love?

Plenty. With viscous plot and rake-thin premise (make what you will of that narrative contradiction), many a good film has been made. But it’s nigh-on impossible for any of the myriad ideas put forth here to take hold with any lasting thematic coherence. With a slickly-rendered attention-deficit (the real glue that holds his surgical focus together), Zulawski promotes his rococo vision by piling meta-echoes upon meta-echoes with such off-puttingly ugly verbosity that the engineered madness, a kind of ad hoc lo-budget ornamentalism with the hyper-jittery frame-rate of a TV movie, becomes the entire raison d’etre. It forewarns the impatient: fall for the first minute and the next 101 are a treat.

Otherwise, pith off: “You are just a face, a mask. Behind it, there is nothing.” But what a mask! Memorably gaunt-cheeked, sunken-eyed, Jonathan Genet plays Witold, a law school dropout who arrives with his pal Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) at a family-run bed-and-breakfast (with breakfast-in-bed) in Portugal with dreams of writing his first novel—and finds no shortage of inspiration there. Rocked by inexplicable spasms that run through his face like an electrical current, Witold falls for the whole affair: the gobbledygook-gabbling patriarch Leon Wojtys (Jean-François Balmer), his long-suffering wife (Sabine Azema), their daughter Lena (Victoria Guerra) and even the deformed lip of family maid Catherette (Clementine Pons). A murder mystery runs beneath all of the feigned and strained emotionalism: a sparrow, a cat and pieces of wood are all found hanged on the guesthouse’s premises.

Words, words, words. Tongue twists abound in this hotchpotch of “chasms, patterns, strata, rhythms, wounds, spasms,” and the crazed maximalism and heightened delirium make this a dramatic exercise rather than a drama per se: when one character breaks down into tears, it’s impossible to engage with the material due to the heightened delirium—and just when a scene threatens to convince us into something resembling a consistent mood, Zulawski hangs the string score in mid-air: just when we thought we were in, he wrenches us back out. As Witold himself remarks, “She is impenetrable, elusive and vast like the ceiling.” There are enough highbrow references and self-deprecating winks, meanwhile, to keep a certain crowd chuckling away to publicise their own understanding of this essentially self-serving work.

There’s an unconsummated eroticism at play here. All of the film’s secret, underlying energies are contained in Guerra, whose Lena is subtly flirtatious with and increasingly exasperating to Witold. Guerra’s beauty is her ordinary (and unexceptionally photographed) face, which explodes in later scenes into outrageously striking frivolity, tongue out between perfect teeth and eyes to be read as one wishes. In truth, it’s a test of one’s patience whenever she’s not onscreen—and the film carries all of its weight when she is. MICHAEL PATTISON


Papusza (2013) | DVD release Kinoteka 2014

Director/Writers: Joanna Kos, Krzysztof Krauze

Main Actors: Jowita Miondlikowska, Joanna Niemirska, Antoni Pawlicki

131 minutes  Polish and Romany  Origin: Poland  Documentary

Picture: Black and White

Though ostensibly a biopic of the Polish-Romani poet and singer Bronisława Wajs (aka the eponymous Papusza), Joanna Kos and Krzysztof Krauze’s Papusza seems to concern itself just as much with the life and history of the Romani people in 20th Century Poland as it does with Papusza herself. In telling Papusza’s story, the film jumps back and forth over a sprawling timeline, encompassing both World Wars and, perhaps equally significantly for the Romani community, a government decree aiming to end their nomadic roaming. This, then, is as much a story about the effect of external politics upon a community as it is a story about one woman’s struggle with the ideological confines of that same community.

In a sense, though, it’s also external politics that exacerbate Papusza’s situation. On the run and in hiding in the post-war years, poet and ex-resistance fighter Jerzy Ficowski takes refuge with the Romani, entering a world where people believe in spells and justify stealing animals by claiming that they are God given and owned by all. Here, he meets Papusza who, unusually for a Romani, has learnt to read – much to the disgust of her fellow travellers. At one point, when Papusza is still just a girl, the Romani camp is attacked and burnt. Papusza believes the attack to be her fault, simply because she has learnt to read. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Papusza is hesitant about her literary gifts – gifts noticed and encouraged by Ficowski, who will later translate and publish Papusza’s poems in Polish newspapers, bringing Papusza both wider fame and banishment from the Romani world. She is accused of betraying their honour and their secrets, and therefore of breaking the rules of their insular community.

When Papusza states that she would have been happy if she hadn’t learn to read, it’s hard not to read in wider issues of social and sexual politics, both within and beyond the Romani community – and yet, the continual focus on the community at large prevents Papusza from becoming a ‘woman’s film’, or from ever giving us a central protagonist with which to truly identify. As a whole, the film may be very well made and strikingly shot, but it’s also long and a little too leisurely, given the lack of tight engagement. Still, as a detailed portrait of an outsider community, the film leaves a textured imprint which won’t be soon forgotten.  Alex Barrett



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



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


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.


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


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


Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | London 7 – 29 April 2016

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


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



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


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

Polish Masterpieces | Part II | Kinoteka 2015

Andre Simonoveisz looks at Polish Cinema in the 70s and 80s in the second part of our Kinoteka 2015 series curated by Scorses | MARTIN SCORSESE SELECTS | POLISH MASTERPIECES

Hour_Glass copy

SANATORIUM POD KLEPSYDRA (THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM) 1973 | directed by Wojciech Haas nine years after The Saragossa Manuscript is even more playful and anarchic. Josef (Jan Nowocki) arrives in the sanatorium of the title, only to meet his father Jacob, who has died a while ago. Looking out of the window, he watches himself arriving earlier, but by very different means. When he meets his mother, who is just eight years old, Josef starts to comprehend that time is of different nature in this sanatorium. His life rolls along a different timetable, his innermost hopes and fearful nightmares mingle. Haas never tries to rationalise the narrative, and it seems only logic, that Josef will be a captured creature for the rest of his life. The film features the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo re-enacted by an army of clockwork manikins, as well villagers dressed as exotic birds – Josef is always the spectator, but since his inner time-clock is shot, he sees the narrative as a dream, he is travelling from event to event without him (or the audience) being aware how he got there. Josef’s loss of retrograde memory seems to be opening his brain for any events, however startling. Haas direction is flawless and the production design is stunning. HOURGLASS SANATORIUM is as exhausting as original, the avant-garde film of Polish cinema of its era.


ILLUMINACJA (ILLUMINATION, 1972) is Krzysztof Zanussi’s most autobiographical film. At the beginning we listen to a tedious lecture by a professor, explaining the moment of ‘illumination’ when the brain sees the truth directly, thus make it possible for the person to attain wisdom. Cut to Frantizek Retman (Stanislaw Latallo), a physicist student at the university of Warsaw, whose vital statistics and cognitive prowess, are measured by a team of research scientists. Retman is drawn to this particular science, because he believes in universal laws und predictable phenomena. But his analytical and logical approach to live is tested, when he falls in love with a beautiful woman, but is rejected. Frantizek is obsessed with this loss, and (like the hero in Zanusssi’s “Camouflage”) takes to mountain climbing. He meets Agnieszka, with whom he falls in love, but who is already pregnant. She convinces Frantizek to marry her. They move into a mall apartment, where, to make ends meet, Frantizek volunteers for behavioural research. But he is overwhelmed by his responsibilities and interrupts his studies to find a full-time job. After a friend from the research clinic dies, Frantizek falls into a deep depression. It is not only his relationship with Agnieszka and the death of his friend, which lead to Frantizeks downfall. He looses his belief in physics as a ‘neutral’ science, when he argues with another student about the responsibility of scientists. Retman declares “that I am not responsible for the A-Bomb, because I did not participate in the research”. But the fellow student exposes Retman’s self delusion “But the inventors were physicists too”.

ILLUMINATION shows Zanussi at the height of his aesthetic brilliance: he has constructed ILLUMINATION like a kaleidoscope, where mosaics meet and form a new content. Like in one scene, when Retman interrupts his contemplation of the cosmos to have his palm read. His motive is very devious: he just wants to know how far off the palm reader is. Her answer, that Retman does not like himself; hits home, since it is anathema to Retman, who is very self satisfied. ILLUMINATION is an idiosyncratic and insightful contemplation on the relationships between science and art, precision and creativity, intellect and emotion – and a reflection on the human need for a personal balance of the above. For our full review

Jump_7 copy copySALTO (JUMP, 1972) is perhaps the most important film of Tadeusz Konwicki (1926-2015), best known as a novelist and script-writer of Mother Joan of the Angels. The film is set immediately after the end of WWII, when a young man (Zbienew Cybulski) – calling himself either Kowalski or Malinowski, later identified as Carol – jumps of a train and runs through the fields. For a moment one is not sure if this the sequel to Ashes and Diamonds, since Cybulski seems not to have changed, wearing the same sun glasses as in Wajda’s film and running wildly through the sparsely populated countryside. Finally he reaches a nameless town, where, so he claims, he has spent the war, in hiding. Nodbody seems to remember him, but then, nobody else seems to be very sure who they are themselves. Everyone’s identity is called into question – one starts to believe that they are all ghosts, which one character declares to be the truth. Carol makes the most outrageous claims, but always modifies his stories of the past when he is confronted with somebody who had witnessed the specific act. Carol claims that “he is chaste”, making himself out to beatific Christ-like figure. He even seems to cure two ill children, but the camera glides away at the last moment, so we miss the crucial death. Finally, the whole town is coming together at a dance celebration – the atmosphere reminds of Wajda’s Wesele (title image). The “Salto” dance, when all the town’s folk are locked together, is an affirmation of Polish identity, whilst the presence of a “chochol” (polish derogative for a Cossack soldier) might be a subtle hint of the political reality of the day.
The camerawork is fluid, graceful, the jump cuts between the scenes are disorientating, which gives the film a dreamlike flow. Finally, Cybulski jumping off the train at the beginning, seems now very disconcerting, since he was killed jumping on a train at a railway station in real life. AS

Austeria_4AUSTERIA (THE INN, 1983) is set in the Galician (now Polish) border with Russia in the first days of World War I. Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s film of the novel of the same name by Julian Stryjkowki (who also co-wrote the script) is controversial because of its description of Jewish pacifism, which led to the slaughter by Russian soldiers, and its parallels to the Holocaust. AUSTERIA is symptomatic for the difficulties Polish filmmakers had after World II in dealing with the lack of Polish resistance to the Holocaust committed in their country, and the fact, that more than thousand Jews, many of them survivors of the concentration camps, were murdered after 1944 in Poland. In the film, a Jewish innkeeper Tag (Franciszek Pieczka) is trying to keep some sort of order during the first hectic days of the war. Austrian troops manning the border, are on the retreat, Hassidic Jews from an nearby village arrive, panic stricken. An Austrian baroness and her family seem to have nothing else to do than settling private scores; and a Hungarian hussar, who has lost contact with his regiment, is more interested in sexual escapades than finding his way back to his troops. A young Jewish village girl is killed, and the rituals of her funeral are causing difficulties. The Hassidic Jews discuss Talmudic questions, before being slaughtered by the advancing Russian soldiers in a nearby lake. Whilst the film is a realistic portrait of the chaos and viciousness of the emerging war, its underlying ideology that Jews were slaughtered because they did not put up resistance is apologetic – centuries of pogroms in Poland are proof of a violent anti-Semitism.

AKTORZY 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 change 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 society comes with a loss of innocence. Whilst Holland’s actors as not particularly sympathetic – the usual gossip about which actress sleeps with the director, a 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 different from the rest, but he is only too ready to fall in with Burski’s interpretation. His attempted suicide is just an act, he then runs to Anna (whom he had just condemned as naïve), like a little boy to 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 ‘Provincial Actors‘ 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”.

Wedding copyWESELE (THE WEDDING, 1972) is one of Wajda’s most complex films. Based on a play by Stanislaw Wyspiansky written in 1900, THE WEDDING is an hallucination in the mist of the countryside, where guests at the party are visited by figures from Poland’s past. Set at a time when no Polish state existed, the groom, a journalist from Krakow, is a member of the intelligentsia, and marrying the daughter of a peasant. During the five-and-a-half minute opening-credit sequence, we follow the cortege with bride and groom going from the church through the countryside, with menacing soldiers lurking everywhere, to the house where the celebrations will be held. By now darkness has fallen and fog encloses everything. At the ceremony, the guests participate not so much in a party, but a comedy of manners, where everybody seems to chasing everybody else. Arguments ensue, and the free-for-all atmosphere degenerates into bitter fighting: the intelligentsia versus the peasantry; Poles against Jews; town’s people versus the rural population, the educated complain about the uneducated and, last but not least, women and men fight with great rancour. What follows are apparitions of Polish historical figures, who engage with the wedding guests in discussions about the way forward to Polish unity and statehood. Scenes from battles are replayed: the peasant army attacking the Russian troops in the successful battle of 1795, the same peasantry being slaughtered in the rebellion of 1846. None of the participating groups is shown in a favourable light: most of them prefer drink and day-dreaming to action, men seem to cheat permanently on their women, the artists are decadent and nobody seems to care much about the social inequalities. In the end, symbolically, the ghost of Wernyhora, an ancient Polish leader, presents the wedding party with a golden horn, to start the battle for independence. But soon, the horn is lost by the marching men outside, amidst the all-engulfing fog. A dreamlike journey through Polish history, told in poetic and expressionistic images, a picturesque yet nightmarish feast.



Polish Masterpieces | Part I | Kinoteka 2015 | Martin Scorsese Selects

Andre Simonoveisz looks at Polish Cinema from 1945 until the 1970 in the first part of our Kinoteka 2015 series curated by Martin Scorsese | MARTIN SCORSESE SELECTS | POLISH MASTERPIECES

During the Second World War years Poland was under German occupation and no Polish films were produced. The film industry’s output between 1945 and 1948 was a meagre four. The foundation of the Lodz Film School in 1948 can therefore be seen as the rebirth of Polish cinema. After the two film schools, one for actors, one for technical crew, were amalgamated in 1958, the standard of Polish films rose dramatically to a level never seen before. Another reason for this aesthetic quality and uniqueness was due to the relaxation of State censorship, after the death of Stalin in 1953.

For ten years, until the Prague Spring of 1968 frightened the cultural bureaucrats back into their burrows, nearly all important directors in Poland had some connection with Lodz Film school. Andrzej Wajda, whose ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958) straddles the periods of Social Realism and Third Polish Cinema, which was one of ‘Moral Choices;. Apart from Wajda, (whose films dominate these movements), Andrzej Munk (1922-1961), who is represented with EROICA (1957), was one of the main directors to come out of the early years of the Lodz film school. Also prominent were Wojciech J. Has with THE HOUR GLASS SANATORIUM (1973, THE SRAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, 1964 and Jerzy Kawalerowicz: MOTHER JOAN (1961), AUSTERIA (1982).

The rejection of Social Realism meant that this period of Polish feature films were mainly concerned with psychological and existential questions. Jerzy Skolimowski (1938), was the youngest of these directors with his sixties New Wave outing WALKOVER (1965) and Roman POLANSKI, with KNIFE IN THE WATER (1961) would soon leave Poland to work abroad. They could be seen as a link to the next stage of development, the Cinema of Moral Anxiety, which lasted from 1976 to 1981. This era is mainly represented by Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 – 1996) with A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (1987) and BLIND CHANCE (1981), and Krzysztof Zanussi (CAMOUFLAGE, 1976, THE CONSTANT FACTOR (1980) and ILLUMINTATION (1972). Also worth noting is Agnieszka Holland, part of the last movement of films between 1948 and 1982 , whose PROVINCIAL ACTORS (1978) is the only film by a woman director in this showcase of Polish masterpieces. AS

Knights_of_the_Black_Cross_1KRZYZACY KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK CROSS, (1960) was one of the most popular movies of its time in Poland. Based on the novel of the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis), written in 1900, when Poland did not exist as a state; the fervent nationalist tenor of book and film (it was the first Polish book published after WWII) was a major factor in the success of the film. A tragic romantic story, it is set around the battle of Grunwald in 1410 between the then Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic order. Directed in 1960 by the veteran Aleksander Ford, it showed a small and divided Poland, the German army had occupied Poland since the Crusade of the 12th century, their, not very honest, motivation was to bring Christianity to Poland. In the summer of 1410 the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania defeated the Order and brought an end to German domination in Central Europe.

The eye-patch wearing Knight Jurand stops the Black Cross invaders from imprisoning merchants – as a revenge act, the order kills Jurand’s wife. His daughter Danusia (Grazyna Staniszewska) falls for the poor nobleman Zbyszko (Mieczyslaw Kalenik), who vows to avenge Danusia’s mother’s death. After their engagement, Siegfried de Lowe – who is an allie of the Germans – kidnaps Danusia. The new leader of the Teutonic Kinghts, Ulrich, declares war on Poland and Lithuania, which leads to the battle of Grunwald in 1410. Shortly before, Zbyszko frees Danusia, but she has lost her mind, and dies shortly after. Zbyszko, one of the heroes of the battle, finally marries his childhood girl friend Jagienka.

Ford had a long and unhappy relationship with the authorities in Poland. In 1947, after having set up “Film Polski”, he fell foul of the Soviet censorship. He fled to Prague, but returned, rather opportunistic, to make films in the approved manner of “socialist realism’, being praised by the authorities. At the end of the sixties, he again emigrated, this time to Germany, where he directed a film in 1975. After emigrating once again, this time to the USA, he committed suicide in Florida in 1980.

Eroica. 1957. Dir Andrzej Munk. Kadr.Andrzej Munk’s EROICA (1957) is a thesis on ‘heroism’ in two parts. Part one “Scherzo alla Polacca”, is set before the Warsaw uprising in August 1944. Dzidzius leaves the planning soldiers, and returns to his wife, deciding that he is not cut out to be hero. A Hungarian officer tells him that he and his men are ready to change sides, if the Russians can give them guarantees. Often drunk and full of self pity, Dzidzius tries to broker a pact between the two sides, but the deal falls apart. Left with nothing to show for his efforts Dzidzius returns to the uprising – just to please a friend. Dzidzius is anything but a hero, he is a man without many attributes, who is selfish but too afraid that others might find him out – he cares more for appearances, than his own integrity. Part two of EROICA, ”Ostinato lugubre”, is about a created myth based on false heroism: Lieutenant Zawistowski is hiding in the roof section of the barracks in a prison camp. In order to keep morale up, his fellow prisoners are told that he has successfully escaped while he is really being fed by two friends. But Zawistowski cannot endure the loneliness and kills himself. His friends remove his body secretly from the camp, so as to keep the myth –and the hope of the prisoners – alive. EROICA is very dark, and Munk was not only attacked for “formulism”, but also for “blackening the memory of Polish heroes”. But EROICA is deeply humanistic, showing that nobody is made to be a hero; circumstances dictate our fate much more than the best intentions.

Faraon _02PHARAOH (FARAON) took director Jerzy Kawalerowicz three years to finish, on its premiere in 1966, it was the most expensive Polish film mad with a running time of 175 minutes, which seems, for once, apt, since this is not a spectacle in the DeMille style, but a political excurse, with many parallels to contemporary Poland – if one reads between the lines.
The main struggle is between Ramses XIII (Jerzy Zelnik), a modern ruler, who cares for the whole country – unlike his main opponent, the scheming High Priest Herhor, who wants to manipulate the Pharaoh into wars, he cannot win. Between the two men, Sarah, the Hebrew concubine of Ramses XIII, and mother of his son, is slowly written out of the picture, when Herhor’s oily assistant, tries successfully for the Assyrian princess to seduce Ramses. Simply read Gomolka – Poland’s prime minister of the 50s, who had been imprisoned by the Russians, before they freed him to placate the Polish comrades – for Ramses, and the evil priests for the Stalinist ideologists, and you get the picture.
Shot in Luxor, Cairo and Uzbekistan, PHARAOH has its spectacular moments, but the director never falls into the trap to overload the film with exotica or mass scenes. From the beginning, PHARAOH has a very measured pace, the intellectual and emotional confrontations at court are always the centre peace. Debate rather than battle dominates. Ramses is shown as a sometimes confused ruler, who oscillates between dictating his rights to be the supreme ruler, and his wish for compromise. In the end, he is easy prey for the manipulating priests, who are in tandem with foreign powers. PHARAOH is a reflection on power, and its limits.

Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrPOPIOL I DIAMNAT (ASHES AND DIAMONDS) directed by Andrzej Wajda in 1958 is undoubtedly a film noir. Not only has Wajda borrowed the angled shadows and the black and white aesthetics from the masters of the genre, but he also has given the film a hero, who is already as good as dead at the beginning of the film. Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his friend Andrzej are fighters for the Polish Home Army, who fought against the Germans for the Government in Exile in London. Now, on May 8th 1945, their new enemies are the communists. They get the order to kill the party secretary Szczuka. The men 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, who 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 crew and cast, 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, the destruction is total, and the future looms grey and unwelcoming. The film was shot in a small town, were 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 firework, 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.

Innocent Sorcerers. 1960. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrNIEWINNI CZARODZIE (INNOCENT SORCERERS, 1960) is set in contemporary Warsaw. Bazyl (Tadeusz Lomnicki) is a young doctor and plays in a jazz band. He is a dreamer, not really unhappy, but indolent. His fake blond hair is one of he reasons for his popularity with women, but he is unable to commit. 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) hands out with him during the long nights, hoping in vain, to pick up one of the women who lusts after Bazyl. 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 – originally against his will – 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 wants to leave, Bazyl lets her go against his better judgement. Roman Polanski has a vignette playing bass. Although Wajda directed the film, it very much belongs to scripter, Jerzy Skolimowski’s; Bazyl being a prototype of Skolimowski’s hero in Walkover. INNOCENT SORCERERS is full of ironies and alienation. Bazyl and Edmund are running away from a society with which they have nothing in common, but, equally, they are not committed to anything – they are directionless, 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 Edmunds arms, but ends up being her prey. The camera shows melancholic images of a rather nondescript environment, the pubs are are as faceless as Bazyl’s studio flat. The characters seem to live in a void, only music keeping them alive.

Knife_in_the_Water_1Roman Polanski’s debut feature NOZ W WODZIE (KNIFE IN THE WATER) 1962 | is a parable. Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) plays a successful functionary and heroic ex-partisan. Driving to to his coast for a sailing break, he and his wife, Krystyna ( Jolanta Umecka) pick up a a rough hitch-hiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz). To impress his wife, Andrzej invites the young man to join them on the sailing trip, hoping very much to get the upper hand and show his wife that there there is still something of a hero in him. But the young man turns the tables, and finally Krystyna sleeps with him. But her verdict leaves a bitter taste for the “victor”: “You will end up exactly like him”. On the way home, the trio is mostly in awkward silence. NOZ W WODZIE is a film about the need for male confrontation in private life, and man’s opportunism in the public domain. Andrzej lives in his heroic past, but the present is anything but: he is a public servant, despite his car and sailing boot, the trappings of success in a political system which relies on obedience. His wife looks at him as a “has-been”, and the young man as his younger double. Polanski’s irony becomes apparent in the little story Andrzej tells, which is a parallel to the main narrative: A sailor wants to show off, he shatters a glass bottle, and jumps onto the shards. He bleeds heavily, having forgotten that he used to do this party trick a long time ago, when he was working in the ships engine room, where the hot ash had toughened the soles of his feet. Time had moved on.

Saragossa_Manuscript_4REKOPIS ZNALEZIONY W SARAGOSSIE (THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965) is one of the most mythical films of Polish cinema. Directed by Wojciech Haas in 1964, SARAGOSSA is based on a novel written between 1813 and 1815 by Jan Potocki. SARAGOSSA is an adventure, told in flashbacks, constructed like a “Russian Doll”: each story opens another surprising new story. During a battle for Saragossa, a Spanish officer discovers an old manuscript, which tells the stories of his ancestor, a certain Van Worden. In a remote inn Van Worden meets two exotic sisters, Emina and Zibelda, who ask him to become the fathers of their children. Van Worden enjoys this adventure, but passes out after getting drunk. He wakes up next morning under the gallows. Here, the real adventure starts: Van Worden gets involved in the gruesome Spanish Inquisition, and flees to a castle of a Cabalist. In the end, the audience learns that all these escapades were just a test of Van Worden’s bravery. He carries on his journey to the King’s Castle, stopping at another inn, where two ladies are introduced to him: Emina and Zibelda… Van Worden flees in panic. SARAGOSSA is a romantic comedy, with stylish aesthetics and a feeling for subtle irony.

Mother Joan of the Angels. 1961. Dir Jerzy Kawalerowicz. KadrMATKA JOANNA OD ANILOW (MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (1961) is based on real events in Loudon, France around 1730. Jerzy Kawalerowicz has transferred the narrative to Poland, but kept close to events. MOTHER JOAN begins after the first outbreak of devil worship in the Ursuline cloister. Renewed outbreaks of devil worship and sexual transgressions bring Father Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) on the plan, to finish the finish the heresy once and for all. But Suryn falls in love with the Mother superior Joanna (Lucyna Winnicka), whilst Sister Margarete (Anna Ciepielewska) even spends a night with a wealthy landowner in the very inn, Suryn is staying. The father has to fight to repress his carnal lust for Joanna; in one of the great scenes, the two are seen in flagellation, both of them half-naked, but far apart, in the attic. Joan cannot overcome her guilt for not achieving Sainthood status, and also wants to be punished for her forbidden lust. Suryn wants to scarify himself, mainly to save Joanna. The dark gloom of the main locations, the inn and the cloister, is often shattered by a glaring white light; the white of the nuns’ robes and the horses’ coat, the latter galloping around a barren landscape, are set like counter points in a medieval painting. Subtle panning shots allow a change of levels from the subjective to the objective. In the end, Joanna and Father Suryn are both the victims of totalitarian demands by the church, which forbids love and drives Suryn into murder. MOTHER JOAN is a rejection of any dogma, and for once, it was the Catholic Church (not the state censors), who wanted a Polish movie banned from being shown in Cannes, where MOTHER JOAN won the “Special Price” of the Jury in 1961. Its impressive, but modest aesthetics, very much in line with Bresson’s formal ascetics, give the film the feeling of an eternal parable. AS



Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).


On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.


And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT


New Horizons Film Festival Wroclaw | Poland | 23 July – 3 August 2015 | WINNERS

New Horizons Festival is one of Poland’s major international film events and a place for daring, unconventional film that push cinematic boundaries with films from Europe and beyond. Taking place in Wroclaw Poland each year with a competition programme comprising auteurish World cinema, a strand for Art cinema and the latest in Polish avantgarde film and cult classics. This year a retrospective on Tadeusz Konwicki will celebrate his life of the groundbreaking director, who died last month in Warsaw, at the age of 88.

The main competition line-up comprised premieres and titles selected from previous festival:

Arabian Nights Trilogy (Cannes); Goodnight Mommy (Venice); H (various); Heaven Knows What (various); Lucifer (Tribeca); Ming of Harlem; Twenty One Storeys in the Air; Necktie Youth

Grand Prix Best Film – LUCIFER 
Audience Award – GOODNIGHT MOMMY – review below


Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala Producer: Ulrich Seidl

Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

99min Austria (German with subtitles)

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her debut with a vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas. They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. Recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a ‘mummy’, she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign and start to wonder whether this is really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, they become convinced that she is not their mother but a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent images that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace and the innocent boys transformed into everyday psychopaths due to the lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those terrible kids from The Shining, The Innocents even Cronenburg’s The Brood. A very clever film which contrasts images of revulsion with those of serene beauty. MT

Special Tribute | TADEUSZ KONWICKI



Dir.: Tadeusz Konwicki | Cast: Andrzej Lapacki, Gustaw Holoubek, Maja Komorowska | Poland 1972 | 95 min.

With his films The Last Days of Summer and Jump, Konwicki tries to re-create the life of his anti-hero Andrzej (Lapacki), going forward, but mainly backwards through his life. Before the opening credits, we see a man falling, surrounded by collages, reminding us a little of Vertigo’s pre-credit artwork. Andrzej has come to rserach, whilst his best friend Maks (Holoubek) committed suicide, but soon his search spins totally out of control and Andrzej is moving into his past. He again meets his ex-wife Musia (Komorowska), and other women he slept with. Trying to warn his friend to stay away, so as not to be killed, Andrzej finally has to face his darkest secret: the murder of a man. In a similar vein to Wojciech Has’ The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (1973), time is not linear, Andrzej literally falls into different time spheres, often trying to make sense out of the situation by himself and in this way examining his motives which are not particularly altruistic.

Konwicki always stood by the autobiographical context of his novels and films: “I write books and make films about myself. In other words, I describe myself in a conditional mode, past, perfect or future tense. I create situations in which I behaved or could have behaved or wish, that I had behaved in a certain way.” (Retrospective Tadeusz Konwicki at the Wroclaw International Film Festival, July/August 2015). AS




Venice Days | Giornate degli Autori | 2 – 12 September 2015

Venice Film Festival has its own version of Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, called GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI – VENICE DAYS. Independently run, parallel to the main programme, it all happens just down the road in the grounds of a lush villa overlooking the famous beach where Dirk Bogarde starred in Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece Death in Venice.

El Nascondido - RetributionWith a jury headed by French director, Laurent Cantet, this year’s official selection comprises new works from well-known talent including Chile’s Matias Bize and Italy’s Vincenzo Marra, along with emerging names such as Poland’s Piotr Chrzan and India’s Ruchika Oberoi. Agnes Varda will also be there with her short film Les Tres Boutons which is part of designer Miucci Prada’s strand  ‘The Miu Miu Women’s Tales.’

The Daughter

VENICE DAYS opens with Spanish filmmaker Dani de la Torre’s debut thriller EL DESCONICIDOS (RETRIBUTION) (above) and closes with Jindabyne actor and theatre director Simon Stone’s debut drama THE DAUGHTER. which stars Geoffrey Rush and is losely based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck.

KlezmerWe’re particularly looking forward to the WORLD PREMIERES of Polish wartime drama KLESMER (left) from Piotr Chrzan and Stray Dogs scripter Song Peng Fei’s directorial debut UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE (below) which follows a similar vein to the 2013 outing which won Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice 2013. High on our list is also Vincenzo Marra’s fourth feature LA PRIMA LUCE which brings Riccardo Scamarcio back to the Lido again starring an Italian lawyer in search of his son lost in Chile.

Underground FragranceCarlo Saura’s documentary ARGENTINA showcasing the country’s national pastime, compliments his series on dance that includes; Fados, Blood Wedding and Carmen. The 83-year-old director is taking a break to come to the Lido from filming Renzo Piano: an Architect for Santander, to screen next year. Britain will be represented in a special event by Grant Gee and his latest film INNOCENCE OF MEMORIES, based on Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence.



Body (2015) | Berlinale | Karlovy Vary

Director Malgorzata Szumowska

Cast: Janusz Gajos, Maja Ostaszewska, Justyna Suwala

There is something rather tragic about Malgorzata Szumowska’s BODY. And I don’t mean to insult the Silver Bear Winner or her latest drama. She encourages us to chuckle at this darkly ‘humorous’ portrait of a father daughter relationship that has clearly gone off the rails. Yet there is nothing remotely funny about the themes explored: a lonely ageing widower, a troubled daughter at odds with her life, a bereaved single mother who cannot move on from the death of her young son. The tone is upbeat in comparison with Elles and In The Name Of,  yet BODY never really offers a satisfactory or involving story with these well-drawn and worthwhile characters.

Veteran actor Janusz Gajos (Three Colors: White) plays a murder prosecutor whose own life is far from a picnic. In a grey and dreary Warsaw, his daily grind involves a stream of mutilated bodies, although the suicide victim he visits in the opening scene, bizarrely, comes back to life. Very black indeed. His wife has sadly died and left him living with his nubile daughter, Olga (Justyna Suwala), whose mother’s death has widened the existing rift between them. Their lack of affection has left her with an eating disorder. After a particularly bad attack, Olga finds herself in hospital and visited by Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), a therapist who treats bulimia and anorexia. Her placid serenity is conducive to her work as a clairaurient psychic, who dashes down messages from ‘spirit’ in a febrile frenzy.

Back at the family home, a poltergeist appears to be up to its tricks with leaks and creaks and other strange events. Michel Englert’s script attempts to turn these into witty vignettes yet they are laced with tragic overtones and gradually the promising plotlines pale into insignificance as we mull over the broken lives of the protagonists. Then suddenly something quite lovely happens with our mousy medium Anna. As she sits round a table with father and daughter, joining hands in a seance that began at night and is still going as the dawn breaks, a most uplifting moment makes this awkward drama sing out with heartfelt soul. The strange and magical alchemy of Englert’s clever cinematography and superb performances (particularly from Ostaszewska) manage to create a mesmerising finale. MT



Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) | Mubi

Wri/Dir: Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Tadeusz Konwicki: screenplay, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz | Cast: Lucyna Winnicka, Mieczyslaw Voit, Anna Ciepelewska, Maria Ciewalibóg, Kazirmirsk Fabiziak, Stanislaw Jasuikiewicz | Poland, Drama, 110min

A forerunner to Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS (1971) inspired by Aldous Huxley’s fifties novel The Devils of Loudun, comes the minimalist splendour of Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od aniolów) from Polish Film School KADR director and writer, Jerzy Kawalerowicz who rose to fame with his stylish noir thriller, Night Train (1959). A fave of Martin Scorsese, the film was lauded as a masterpiece during the brief Polish New Wave of the fifties, winning the 1961 Special Jury Prize at Cannes. In a remote and nameless village in 17th Century Poland, Father Josef Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) is despatched to investigate claims of ‘The Devil’ possessing a group of nuns. That is not all he finds.

Owing more to Dreyer than to Russell, there are also echoes here of Black Narcissus (1947) a certain salaciousness twists through this Polish black and white re-imagining of the supposed possession of an Ursuline Convent in the French town of Loudon in 1634. The convent setting in a bleak and barren landscape is almost metaphor for a repressed hardship of Poland under the cosh of Communism, adding a particularly piquancy to Kawalerowicz’s narrative: although being an atheist himself and had no sensibility for the Catholic Church. The opening sequences reflect the poverty of the times: an outbreak of the plague having just wreaked destruction on the village, the vast landscape is bare apart from the charred remains of a stake that scars the horizon, marking the spot of Urbain Grandier’s execution. The film has an ethereal quality with its stylised minimalist aesthetic, pristine visuals and exquisite rhythmic symmetry seen in the nuns, dressed in white robes, dancing out of the convent, photographed from above and also later as they leave in single file to a simple toll of the bell, and stand in formation to receive the Holy rites, captured by Jerzy Wojciek’s camera against a predominantly dark background contrasting with the black robes of the priests.

All is not well in this Holy place and after a brief meeting in the Convent with Father Suryn, Sister Joan slithers around the stone walls in feigned ecstasy, cackling mischievously, Clearly she has been possessed by dark forces. Lucyna Winnicka is superb as the lascivious and possessed Abbess Mother Joan. By contrast, Father Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) is solemn and rather open-faced in his peity as he conducts the ceremony to exhort her sin, recommending total isolation to treat her condition. Particularly captivating is the scene where ravens swirl around to the chanting of female voices followed by the chiaroscuro sequence of Suryn’s self-flagellation as he fights inner demons of temptation provoked by his reaction to Mother Joan.

By the end he has transformed into quite a different character and visits the Rabbi for advice and support. Here, white-faced against a black background, the dialogue between a magnificently vehement Rabbi (also played by Voit) and the tortured soul of Father Suryn, alternate in an inspired twist of genius, Voit’s face looming out of the darkness to play each character to perfection.

Father Suryn is made aware of the duality of religion and that Christianity originates from Judaism, and takes pity on Mother Joan, clearly appreciating her plight of possession and, in an ultimate sacrifice of pure love, receives the demons into his own being, with the axe murder of two innocent stable boys. It is an impressive performance by Voit and a lively re-working of the novel. Each scene is a masterpiece of framing and inventiveness underpinned by the complexity of a storyline that feels fresh and fascinating even now. MT.




Night Train (1959) Pociag| Scorsese Selects | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Writers: Jerzy Lutowski, Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Cast: Lucyna Winnicka, Leon Niemczyk, Teresa Szmigielówna, Zbigniew Cybulski

99min  Thriller   Polish

Stylish and endlessly compelling, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s NIGHT TRAIN (1959), is an accomplished psychological thriller set on a train carrying a variety of passengers from Warsaw to the Baltic coast.

Belonging to the Polish School, that flourished briefly during the fifties, a seductive Noir ‘whodunnit’ was written and directed by the renowned Jerzy Kawalerowicz, and features a seductive a subtle performance for Leon Niemczyk, in suave shades and slick-back hair, travelling to Gdansk. Having lost his ticket, he offers to buy a double cabin for sole occupation but discovers that his berth is already occupied by the foxy Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) who refuses to leave. They agree to share the carriage but their guarded behaviour sets the tone for this sinister and unsettling journey into the night.

At a brief stop-off, Jerzy buys cigarettes and is pursued by a mysterious woman, whilst Marta bumps into a troublesome ex-lover Staszek (Zbigniew Cybulski). It soon emerges that a murderer is on lose and may even be on the train, and it may even be the suspicious Jerzy. With incredibly skilful storytelling, Kawalerowicz keeps the tension taut throughout, heightened by the claustrophobia of the carriage, revealing very little about these beautiful strangers, making us do all the work, pointing the finger at Jerzy, adhering to the maxim ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden. Marta is clearly suffering from emotional strain due to the presence of Staszek. But there is no chemistry between Marta and Jerzy, despite his sultry allure. The couple remain strangers to the others passengers and to each other, eventually becoming complicit in their own status as outsiders against a World poised to indict them without evidence or proof.

Train journeys, particularly at night, conjure up the exhilaration n of the unknown, the excitement of travel, the possibility of danger, the mystery of exotic strangers and NIGHT TRAIN revels in all these elements with its smouldering jazz score by the Andrzej Trzaskowski (Innocent Sorcerers) adding to the atmosphere. Very much a triumph of less is more NIGHT TRAIN borrows from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, with its undercurrents of danger, it is a metaphor for xenophobia in a society suspicious of anything unknown or unusual, of a Poland fleeing from the cosh of Communism and Socialist Realism. MT


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Last Day of Summer (1958 ) Ostatni Dzien

Dir/Wri: Tadeuz Konwicki  CIN: Jan Laskowski: | Cast: Irena Laskowska, Jan Machulski | 66min  Drama  Polish

Tadeuz Konwicki hints at melodrama and impending doom in this elegantly-crafted mood piece set on a vast deserted Baltic Beach in amongst windswept dunes. As fighter planes pass overhead on a training sortie, two strangers meet tentatively, an older woman (Irena Laskowska) and a young man (Jan Machulski), each seemingly traumatised by memories of the past, unsure of each other and guarded in their attempts to reach out. The woman gradually warms to the man’s advances and they start to communicate with gestures and brief exchanges. Jan Laskowski’s sublime visuals conjure up a mood of sombre anxiety, perfectly capturing the feeling of reticent hope and restless energy in these troubled souls. There is an idyllic scene where the couple embrace in the rolling tide that echoes From Here to Eternity. The Last Day of Summer is perhaps a metaphor for the re-birth of the Polish nation in the aftermath of War, foreshadowing future conflict in the East but edging gradually towards the hope of renewal after a traumatised past. It won the Grand Prix at Venice in 1958. MT


Dostoevsky’s Travels (1991) | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

With: Dimitri Dostoevsky

52min   Doc   UK

In this brilliant made for TV documentary, Dmitri, great-grandson of the novelist, follows in the steps of the great writer, travelling from St Petersburg, where he worked as a tram driver, to Berlin, Baden-Baden and London. Unlike his great grandfather, he is not interested in literature at all, but is more keen on materialism, trying to buy a Mercedes, to show off at home. Homeless at first, he manages to raise finance after meetings with various business men, who also attempt to cash in on his name. After finally achieving his dream purchase it emerges, in the final credits, that his second hand car is now in the garage for repairs, after he crashed his brand new one in St. Petersburg. Pawlikowski’s clever editing and drôle take reveal Dmitri to be an opportunist of the worst order, not only trying to trade off a famous name, but also willing to sponsor a casino in Russia, owned by a profit-hungry German. While in the company of one of last surviving aristocrats, keen to return to the throne, Dmitri changes political colour again, declaring his love for the monarchy. DOSTOEVSKY’S TRAVELS is a rather sad film about a man who tries to sell himself to everybody on the back of a famous family name, but it also reveals Pawlikowski to have a rare style in documentary exposé. AS


Tripping with Zhirinovsky (1995)

Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski | 45min  Documentary  English | DoPs: Bogdan Dziworski, Steven Ascher

Pawlikowski adopts a similar style to Louis Theroux in his documentaries. His minimalist,  observational approach is so lowkey that the extreme Russian nationalist politician and would be president, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, opens up like a flower seemingly without any encouragement. Like most egocentric men, left to ramble on, he talks about himself and the subject he enjoys most: politics. Ranting on voluably, Zhirinovsky thus emerges a comical figure, revealing a great deal about the banal superficiality of his point of view and of his politics.

Enjoying a cruise in New York, his first break in 48 years, he confesses that he feels cheated – sitting on a beach next to a rusting tanker. He then ambushes a complete stranger and pushes him into the water. Later he admits to never being interested in the Arts, so politics seem the natural choice as a career. A self-confessed ‘romantic’ who never feeling any passion, he also claims – now sex has been an avenue of pleasure closed to him since his twenties (his buxom wife still clearly dotes on him) – all that is left for him is politics. Back in Russia, while rowing his boat on the Volga, he posits: “Politics is like a woman, and water is like a woman….you have to feel for it”. And clearly he has a way of capturing the populace with his rousing nationalist speeches thrown at amassed audiences. It appears that Russians have a penchant for these river insurrections, up and down the Volga. TRIPPING very much conjures up the essence of this Russian tradition. Unlike Pawlikowski’s SERBIAN EPICS this is a one-dimensional affair. What it does do is conjure up the Russian tradition of  wandering around the landscape, sounding off. Amusing and quite surreal. MT

Serbian Epics (1992) | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Pawel Pawlikoswki

Cinematographer: Bogdan Dziworski

50mins  Documentary  Serbian with English subtitles

Radovan Karadšic styles himself as a poet and professional psychiatrist in Pawlikowski’s observational documentary that attempts to look at the Serbian nation from a purely anthropological point of view. Playing their sinister folkloric lutes, with a bow, in the dusk of the hills around an industrial-looking Sarajevo in this valley below, the Serbians appear to be a weirdly hostile crowd, and certainly one to be reckoned with. A hundred year’s old shaky archive footage of the Serbian Coronation of King Peter I is also a fearful affair. Clearly, this is a God-fearing nation of Orthodox Christians with all their pomp and splendour. At a Christening service, a bishop in full medieval robes prays that Serbia will “shine like a flock of stars in God’s grace”.

Radovan describes Serbia’s age-old fight against their neighbours, the equally fierce Turks, and gives this as a good enough reason to justify their violence and routing in Bosnia in order to “ethnic cleanse” their nation of Muslims – “we are not aggressors but defenders of our own territory”. Later, military types are seen rushing around with guns and guerilla battledress in the lush and mountainous countryside. The vestiges of the Turkish inhabitants, the ethnic Muslims, fled to the mountains where they “chose to be poor but not to change their religion” opines Radovic.

It all started in 1389 with the Battle of Kosovo, when the Turks defeated the Serbian King Lazar and his army, who died as Christian martyrs (martyr derives from the Greek “witness”). King Lazar then became a Christ-like figure in Serbian folklore, a belief that has been handed down through the generations and still survives today. The monarchy was established 500 hundred years later by the Karadjordjes family, with Peter I, being crowned in 1903. In 1929 the Kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia, under Alexander I, his son. In November 1945, the throne was lost when Communists seized power, but Prince Tomislav (1928 – 2000), Alexander’s son, a tall and rather well-spoken man who speaks the Queen’s English perfectly, and takes us through the dynasty ending with a remarkably life-like portrait of his youngest son, Prince Michael, is now dead. His eldest son, Prince Nikolas (b.1958), now styles himself “His Royal Highness, Prince Nikolas of Yugoslavia”.

Radovic appears to be a more gung-ho version of Hitler, who roused the German people after they had been brought to their knees after their grim defeat in the Great War. Radovan, through the power of myth and folklore, has done the same for the Serbian nation, who seem in Pawlikowski’s documentary, to be a God-fearing country people who are only too glad to be roused by nationalistic pride for their country. MT


Krzysztof Kieslowski | Interview | Three Colours Trilogy

Andre Simonoveiscz met Krzysztof Kieslowski back in 1994 and spoke to him about his ideas surrounding the trilogy.

Very few directors are anything like the main characters in their films: more than often they are just the opposite in style and appearance. But Krzysztof Kieslowski, whom I met at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, where the last part of his trilogy THREE COLOURS RED (1994) was in competition, was exactly like his films, at least his last four, including THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991). He was sophisticated, subtle, moralistic without being judgemental, detail obsessed, reserved to the point of shyness and a little evasive when it came to pragmatic questions about everyday life or anything that could be construed as political or ideological. It was very difficult to imagine this being the same man who worked for a long time as a documentary filmmaker in Poland, where he was greatly influenced by Wajda’s realistic style. After studying at the famous Lodz film school (where he was finally accepted after two rejections) he embarked on a series of documentaries but had to be pushed into making feature films.


In his DEKALOG (1989/90) films, the last one of which was shot in Poland, Krzysztof Kieslowski had already started to take the position of the observer, letting the narrative develop without any psychological motivations – as just the fly on the wall. “I am only interested in humans, but not in motives, it is not our good intentions which are important, but the most stupid accidents that are interesting.”

In THREE COLOURS, the characters are literally overwhelmed by the aesthetics. The trilogy explores the virtues symbolised by the French Flag: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – the  trio of stories is also about love and loss and defined the art-house movement of the nineties with their cinematic quality and emblematic humanity that ranged from tragedy through to comedy. The trilogy follows the experiences of a group of loosely interconnected characters the trilogy garnered an impressive array of awards at the major European film festival winning the GOLDEN and SILVER BEARS at Berlin and the GOLDEN LION at Venice culminating in three Academy Award nominations.

Juliet Binoche plays Julie in THREE COLOURS: BLUE losing her famous composer husband and little daughter in a car accident at the beginning of the film (the ball popping out of the car wreck is three coloured: red, blue and white). Later on in the Palais de Justice in Paris, she accidentally drops into a divorce hearing of a Polish/French couple: Karol and Dominique, who we will meet in THREE COLOURS WHITE (1994).

Kieslowski’s obsession with the smallest details is shown in the scene when Olivier (her husband’s assistant, who is in love with her) finally tracks down Julie who ignores him as she toys with her coffee, allowing the sugar cube to soak up the liquid. Deciding that the sugar cube would take precisely five seconds to soak up the liquid, Kieslowski had his assistant director test multiple brands to find one that took exactly the right time.

Julie then abandons all her worldly possessions eventually giving them to her husband’s mistress and unborn child, in an act of profound selflessness – because of the housing crisis at the time. I asked Kieslowski if this generosity seemed bizarre in the scheme of things, he was adamant. “Look, today we are all more or less on the same level, if we need a dentist, we can usually get one, everybody has enough”.


In THREE COLOURS: WHITE. Karol and Dominique are a married couple in Paris, but Karol has become impotent – the pressure of being with his beautiful and rich wife being too much for him. He re-emigrates to Poland, where he makes a fortune on the black market, invites Dominque to see him, fakes his own death for which she is, as intended, convicted, but falls in love again when visiting her in prison. WHITE, so Kieslowski says, “shows, that there is no possibility of equality ever. But there is a possibility of ‘brotherhood’, which is shown in the final segment of the trilogy THREE COLOURS: RED.

Three Colour Red 2D Blu-ray copy

Fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob) rescues a dog belonging to a judge (Jean Louis Trintignant), who strangely shows no emotion on being reunited with his pet. He is a man with few close ties although he eavesdrops on neighbours’ and strangers’ conversations. But Valentine somehow manages to get through the armour the judge has built around himself. And the equality here? Well, all the main participants of the trilogy get together, unknown to each other, on an English ferry, which sinks. Only seven are rescued. Needless to say Kieslowski warned not to give away the ending in an atypically pragmatic way: “Don’t tell how the films end. Then nobody will buy a ticket!”


When asked if the three colours red, white and blue refer to the Freedom, Equality and brotherhood, the ideals of the French revolution, Kieslowski is rather dismissive: “The money for these films came from France, so we thought about the colours of the Tricolore, and the ides of the revolution, for which many people fought and died. But we were very naïve because we imagined the French would still abide by these ideals, like Poles with the Eagle and the blood. But this was not the case. Had money come from Germany, we would have constructed a black-red-gold metaphor.”

Kieslowski is well-known for his meticulous, painstaking hours spend in the editing suite. Asked why, he answered “This is my favourite phase of the filming process. Only whilst editing do I have everything under total control.” Asked if he had difficulty eliminating footage to produce the end film he says “I am trying to take more and more away, so that in the end only the really core of the action is left. But one always thinks that the last version is the best, but if you try again maybe?…” He tried, once, to have 17 different versions of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE distributed in Paris cinemas – the producer did not take gladly to this idea. Surprising really.


Friday 31st March
Three Colours: Blue (4K Restoration, Re: 2023)

Friday 7th April
Three Colours: White (4K Restoration, Re: 2023)

Friday 14th April
Three Colours: Red (4K Restoration, Re: 2023)




Stones for the Rampart (2014) | Kamienie Na Szaniec

Dir.: Robert Glinski

Cast: Tomasz Zietek, Marcel Sabat, Kamil Szeptycki

Poland 2014 | 111 min | Action drama

Robert Glinski’s drama, a remake of Jan Lomnicki’s Operation Arsenal from 1978 is based on the non-fiction novel by Aleksander Kaminski, first published underground in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Poland, before it became a book on the curriculum of every Polish school after the war.

Kaminski based his chronicle on the clandestine fight of “Grey Rank” members, the equivalent of Poland’s Boy Scouts, who took up arms against the occupiers. Glinski positions his three heroes, Rudy (Zietek), Zoska (Sabat) and Alek (Szeptycki) in the centre of the action: first the three friends form their own “Grey Rank” unit, trying to sabotage the Germans, before they buy weapons and become part of the “Home-Front” Army, the official Polish resistance force, coordinated by the Government in Exile from London.

The main thrust of STONES FOR THE RAMPART is the liberation of their leader Rudy from the Gestapo. Whilst Rudy is tortured, Zoska and Alek make an exhaustive attempt to get permission from the Home Army to free him: the professional soldiers are not so keen to risk the lives of the resistance fighters. Finally, Rudy is sprung, but tragedy ensues for this brave trio.

Whilst the heroism of the young men deserves to be remembered, they also deserve a more subtle concept without so many clichés. Glinski’s all-out action approach gives too little room for the individuals and their rather complex family lives to be developed to their full potential. This ‘all-guns-blaring’ style with its bloody overkill in the torture scenes lacks subtlety and a decision to cast cute but histrionic girlfriends for our heroes, further trivialises the piece and leads to some prudish sex scenes. Glinski’s stone-age aesthetics together with over-simplistic dialogue, simply doesn’t do the real fighters any justice. AS


Wojciech Wiszniewski Rediscovered | Documentary shorts | Kinoteka 2015

Alhough his life was short, maverick documentarian Wojciech Wiszniewski made a resounding contribution to Polish cinema in the 60s and 70s. His ground-breaking and radical observational style, which incorporated avantgarde framing, distortional sound and inventive narrative techniques, abandoned the documentary as a passive vehicle for reflecting reality. Today this style is known as ‘creational’ and his ten short films bear witness to his pioneering work before he died of a heart attack, aged 35.  Sombre in tone, the mordant humour of these shorts delivers a corruscating message about Poland under Communism – that even then, some workers outshone others, or questioned a regime under which hard work and inventiveness left them with very little material gain or security after a lifetime’s toil.

After winning an award in 1967 for the ironically-entitled HEART ATTACK (1967), a mood piece that follows a taxi-driver through a cityscape lensed by Slawomir Idziak’s expressionist cameraWisziewski focused on the world of work, filming characters such as socialist leader and miner, Bernard Bugdof, in A STORY OF A MAN WHO FILLED 552% OF THE QUOTA (1973) and WANDA GOSCIMINSKA, A WEAVER (1975) whose admirable industriousness and efficient work ethic helped to re-build a pre and post war Poland, whilst often casting their peers in an unfavourable comparative light. This was particularly the case in FOREMAN ON A FARM, where a retired miner who moves with his family to the country to start his own business is rewarded with maliciousness by the envious local community. Interestingly, Both Wanda and Bernard are deeply revered by their families: but whilst Bernard’s wife belittles his working achievements in comparison to those as a father and grandfather, Wanda’s children adore her both for her skills as a mother and her dexterity with her spindles at the Lodz Mill. This confirms that despite Communism, Poland’s status as a Catholic matriarchal society reigned supreme.

the carpenter imageWiszniewski’s films established that even during Communism, a competitive working style was indomitable in society, where human nature prevailed in the belief that years of inventive and efficient work should pathe the way to material success and security. Particularly brilliant is THE CARPENTER (1976 | left) whose narrative follows a fictional character whose career highlights and travails are reflected by genuine footage of Poland’s political and historical events. At the end he asks “How come all my hard work has only left me with a tiny flat?” Most prescient  is THE PRIMER (1976) that illustrates how even in the 70s, traditional learning was being overshadowed by a future where school kids know all the letters of the alphabet but cannot form the words to express themselves and communicate with each other. MT

Wojciech Wiszniewski Rediscovered | Documentary shorts | Kinoteka 2015


Citizen (2014) | Obywatel | Kinoteka 2015

Dir.: Jerzy Stuhr

Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Maciej Stuhr, Sonia Bohosiewcz, Jasmina Polak, Violetta Arlak

Poland 2014, 104 min.

CITIZEN, a chronicle of Poland’s history since the end of WWII, is funny, absurd and extremely moving; its central character, Jan Bratek, played by two different adult actors (Majiec Stuhr and his father Jerzy), is peaceful at heart, but always gets caught in machinations not of his making. The film’s overriding merit is that it deals with ordinary anti-Semitism in contemporary Poland, a topic usually avoided in all but a few Polish films. Stuhr tries to open the debate on how Polish people reacted to the mass murder of their own citizens, and what happened to the houses and belongings of the three million murdered Polish Jews, which made up nearly ten percentage of the Polish population.

Told in non-linear flashbacks, CITIZEN is a tour-de-force of emotions, with great ensemble acting and a vigorous camera which shows the narrative out of Jan’s POV: a traumatic rollercoaster ride for an ordinary man, trapped in a society were many layers of deceit create only new lies, stating unequivocally that neither communism nor fervent nationalism will wash away a past, blocked out by the huge majority of Poles for generations.

Little Jan grows up with parents who live in a flat full of the personal affects of murdered Jews, the Silvers. Jan always questions his parents, why so many objects are named “Silver”, but never gets a satisfying answer. One day, Jan and his friends are caught insulting a Jewish stamp dealer, and Jan (who was not the ringleader), is sent by the communist authorities to join a Jewish cultural group for rehabilitation. Here he falls in love with little Anna, a relationship which will dominate all his teenage years, until Anna (Polak) emigrates to Israel. Jan’s mother, a violent anti-Semitic, making sure her son misses a planned farewell at the station. For the rest of his life, Jan will dream of Anna, no other woman will be able to replace her. From then on Jan stumbles onwards in life, always with his mother in tow. He gets arrested at a “Solidarnosc” meeting at a neighbour’s flat, after using the code “I want to borrow salt” in all sincerity. But in prison, he is not trusted by his new comrades, because they believe that he is a snitch for the government. Rescued by a psychologist (Sonia Bohosiewcz), Jan is so grateful, that he marries her – only to find out during an interrupted love making, that she is working for the Secret Police. Whilst delivering milk, Jan (Jerzy Stuhr) falls for the passionate Kazia (Arlak), who turns out to be a member of the same state organ – but resigns and finally joins a convent. After the fall of communism, Jan is offered a leading position in an openly anti-Semitic political party, but declines. His professional adventures lead him to the catholic church, but during a TV interview, he can’t even names six pillars of the catechism; a priest, trying to help him, shows the answers on a placard – alas the wrong way round; and Jan has to resign. Finally, when a big object from the roof of the Polish TV Station station falls on his head, Jan is at the wrong place at the right time: next to the Prime Minister, whose life he is supposed to have saved. His dream to become a hero is realised after all. AS


To Kill this Love | TRZEBA ZABIC TE MILOSC | (1972) Kinoteka 2015

Dir: Janusz Morgenstern, Wri: Janusz Głowacki | Cast: Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Andrzej Malec, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jan Himilsbach

To Kill This Love is Janusz Morgerstern’s best known film. Like many Polish directors of this era, he was pushed into TV work, after having proved to be too ‘difficult’ with his cinema output. To Kill This Love is a bittersweet slice of seventies social realism but the tone is upbeat and breezy: Magda and Andrzej are finishing secondary school but are a few points short of university entrance level. Magda can start her medical studies in a year’s time,having worked as an orderly in a hospital for eight months. Andrzej too is preparing for university, working at a car repair shop. Their biggest problem is the housing situation, since flats are rare and landlords want some month’s rent in advance. Magda is living with her father, a middle aged engineer, who lives with Dzidzia, a woman, not much older than Magda. She is disturbed by her father’s subservient attitude towards his lover, and talks her father into giving her some money for a rent-deposit. But Andrzej is sleeping with the wife of the car repair shop, and Magda surprises the pair more or less in flagranti. On top of it, Andrzej has stolen a crucifix from his married lover, and sold in on the black market. Magda gives Andrzej a last chance, but is dismayed when she finds out about the theft and tempted into the arms of a surgeon at the hospital.

This narrative strand runs tandem a sad story between a handy man and a disobedient dog, who barks at all his customers. The two meet a tragic end.  Morgenstern shows seventies Poland as a gloomy world in which relationships suffer from opportunism and lack of equality. The central couple’ relationship flounders not so much because of the housing crisis (greedy landlords are not only a problem in communist Poland), but because of Andrzej’s crass materialism – he steals not only to pay for the rent deposit, but is addicted to money. There’s nothing new here in human terms but handyman Himilsbach’s love for his dog is the most touching aspect of the drama: like many people, he chooses a life with his dog, rather than being alone. To Kill This Love is a melancholy poem about emotions becoming a commodity like everything else – not surprisingly, the authorities condemned it as “pessimistic” yet it presents a breezy view of seventies Poland. AS



Knife in the Water (1962) Martin Scorsese Selects | Polish Masterpieces

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Jakub Goldberg, Jerzy Skolimowski, Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski

Cast: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz

Cinematography: Jerzy Lipman    Score: Krzysztof Komeda

94min  Drama   Polish with subtitles

KNIFE IN THE WATER is a symphony in black and white, a perfectly performed ménage à trois between three scantily-clad adults that unspools over 94-minutes during a summer sailing trip. The threesome includes a married couple, Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) who pick up a random 19-year-old hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz), and take him for a day out on their yacht. A simple and low-key invitation turns into a sexually-charged drama where one man triumphs.

Roman Polanski’s first feature is one of the most psychologically-powered debuts on the 2oth Century. What makes it superlative is, without doubt, what also made Last Day of Summer so redolent of the Polish Film School (which had a brief heyday in the late fifties) its triumph of simplicity and quality. Polanski was a perfectionist and chose as his cinematographer, Jerzy Lipman. Most cineastes regard this as his best film although Polanski himself is believed to regard his later work Cul de Sac (1966) as his personal favourite. The drama is shot through with compelling scenes of psychological tension and even the weather joins in to express menace and moments of relief as dark clouds move in or clear to reveal calmer skies.

Zygmunt Malanowicz plays the student although Polanski voiced his dialogue, unsurprisingly we know whose part he would have chosen has he not been concentrating on directing. Using his usual two lenses, the camerawork avoids close-ups in this rigorous portrayal of masculine oneupmanship.

Scripting was a collaborative affair with colleagues Gerard Brach and Jakub Goldberg. Skolimowski’s dialogue between the three is verbose and loquacious, almost nervously so in parts to cover up for the undertones of machismo rippling just below the surface of this overtly polite social day on the lake. The performances from Leon Niemczyk and Jolanta Umecka are subtle reflecting the social etiquette of their upwardly mobile coupledom in contrast to the raffishness of the student from the other side of the tracks. Polanski would continue to make it his stock in trade to focus on the outsider or the underdog (The Tenant, The Pianist) or the unstable marriage (Cul de Sac, Bitter Moon, Carnage). The mounting tension is superbly reflected in a jazzy seductive score by Polanski’s regular composer, Krzysztof Komeda, whose life was to be tragically cut short, seven years later. And like most of Polanski’s films, KNIFE IN THE WATER avoids a happy ending. MT


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Poland’s Tragic Filmmakers

Perhaps because of its geographical position, between Germany and Russia, the history of Poland has been littered with tragic events that have percolated through the subconscious of its artists and creatives to give lasting legacies in the visuals Arts and particularly cinema.

The image of the doomed Polish underdog, a sad victim of Fascism or Stalinism, litters the screens of the postwar period. These historical tragedies effecting their homeland seem to have left a scar on the collective psyches of these talented artists and filmmakers, often causing them to lose their lives while in full swing.

Andrzej_MunkThe leading example of this must be Andrzej Munk (1921-1961), who died in a car accident, after returning from the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was shooting part of PASSENGER, ironically a film about an ex-concentration camp inmate who meets one of her former torturers on a ship. The film was finished, partly with stills, by Witold Lesiewicz and premiered on September 20th 1963, the second anniversary of Munk’s death, winning the FIPRESCI award at the Cannes Film Festival1964. Munk, who was Jewish, had to hide in Warsaw, and was part of the uprising in 1944. He started studying law, but later was one of the first students at the soon-to-be world famous Lodz Film School. He graduated in 1951 and begun shooting poetic documentaries, very much against the grain of the ruling dogma of “socialist realism”. Munk had joined the Polish United Workers Party in 1948, but was expelled already in 1952 for “blameworthy behaviour”. His first feature film MAN ON THE TRACKS was the first anti-Stalinist film in Central Europe. Followed by EROICA (1957) and BAD LUCK (1960), (both written by Stefan Stawinsky) Munk had established himself as the leading Polish director of his generation. Returning to Lodz Film School in 1957 as a teacher, Munk’s students included Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski and Krzysztof Zanussi.

IMG_0978Even though Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) may have lived a few years longer than the “mythical” limit of 50 attributed to artists having died ‘young’, his life is exemplary for his generation of Polish filmmakers, caught between creativity and Stalinist bureaucracy, which tried to suffocate them. After training to be a fire fighter, Kieslowski is successful, after many failed attempts, to study at Lodz Film School in 1965. He finishes in 1965 and joins TOR a documentary film collective in Warsaw. “From Lodz” (1969) and “Worker 71 – nothing about us, without our participation” (1972) are examples for his critical view of Stalinist repression. But his breakthrough is a feature film: THE AMATEUR FILMMAKER (1979), winner of the “FIPRESCI Price” at the ”Moscow Film Festival” of the same year. The satirical story tells the tale of a worker, who suddenly discovers his love for film making – taking himself too serious, he looses his wife, job and finally sanity. DEKALOG (1989), originally a TV film, is a liberal version of the “10 Commandments”, even though Kieslowski denied any religious intentions. A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING and A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE, part of the series, are later shown in separate forms in feature film length. His cultural pessimism found its maximal expression in the THREE COLOURS TRILOGY (1991-1994), where loss and alienation win over, in spite of the will for human survival. Even though Kieslowski retired from directing, he wrote two more scripts, ”Hell” and “Paradise”, but died before he can finish his new trilogy after a failed by-pass operation.

negri_pola_030But the list of Polish directors who died long before they could fulfil their potential is much longer, and by no means complete, they don’t deserve to be forgotten. Aleksander Hertz, was a leading Polish director of the silent period. Film production flourished particularly during the war years of 1914–1918; all in all Hertz directed 48 films in his short life. Eight of them featured a certain Barbara Apolonia Chaĺupiec, later known as Pola Negri. She starred in eight popular erotic melodramas, including BESTIA and SLAVE TO HER SENSES (both 1914), before leaving in 1917 for Germany and later Hollywood.

Ryszard_BoleslawskiRichard Boleslawski was born in Warsaw in 1889; after fighting in the Tsarist army in WWI he stayed in Russia, where he directed two films, before returning to Poland in 1917, shooting the same number of films, before emigrating to Hollywood in 1929, where his first great success was RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS (1932), featuring no less than three Barrymores: Ethel, John and Lionel. Two years later Greta Garbo starred in Boleslawski’s THE PAINTED VEIL. Then tragedy struck whilst shooting THE GARDEN OF ALLAH with Marlene Dietrich in 1936 in the south western desert. Despite company advice, he drank some local unboiled water and became ill, eventually losing his life half way through his last production THE LAST OF MRS CHENEY (starring Joan Crawford) almost a year later. In tribute to his short but invaluable contribution to cinema, the Americans made him a Star on the famous Walk of Fame (1960) on Hollywood Boulevard.

Mieczysław_Krawicz,Mieczyslaw Krawicz (1893-1944) started out as a set designer and was later assistant to Aleksander Hertz. He directed 19 films between 1929 and 1939. His last work was as producer and DOP for the documentary THE CHRONICLES OF THE BESIEGED WARSAW (1939). He would lose his life five years later during the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto.

220px-Eugeniusz-bodo_795791Eugeniusz Bodo (1899-1943) directed only two films but starred in over thirty productions and was one of the most popular figures in interwar Polish cinema. His father was Swiss and owned a cinema in Lodz, where Eugeniusz grew up. In 1931 Bodo jr. founded the BWB studios, and two years later the “Urania” production company, named after his father’s cinema. After the German invasion, he toured the USSR with a jazz band. He was supposed to be repatriated to Poland, but the USSR claimed that he was not eligible, since he carried a Swiss passport. He starved to death during the journey to the labour camp of Kotlas. The USSR claimed that he was murdered by the Germans, but the truth emerged after 1989. In tribute, Stanislaw Janicki shot a documentary about Bodo’s last years FOR CRIMES NOT COMMITTED in 1997..

Henryk Szaro (Henryk Shapiro) was born in 1900 in Warsaw. He started his artistic career at the Polish National Theatre, later working with famous Russian directors like Meyerhold and Arbatov. Szaro directed his first film ONE OF THE 36 in 1925, it had a Talmudic theme. He would return to this subject again in 1937 with THE VOW, which was shot in Jiddish. Overall Szaro directed eleven films between 1925 and 1939. He founded the Association of Polish Producers in 1927, and nine years later the Association of Polish Filmmakers. After the German invasion he fled to Vilnius, but returned to Warsaw, where he was murdered in the ghetto in 1942.

WojciechWiszniewski1Wojciech Wiszniewski was born in 1946 in Lodz. After his father’s premature death, his mother was forced to rent rooms to students of the Lodz film school, young Wojciech getting to know future film directors like Roman Polanski, Andrezej Kostenko and Heryk Kluba. Between 1965 and 1969 Wiszniewski himself studied at the famous PWSFTvIT in Lodz. He was one of the most gifted students of his year, but suffered from heart problems. After film school, he only managed to direct five short films, six documentary shorts and a TV feature but won five awards. His films showed a rather grim picture of Polish society and did not endear him to the authorities. When he finally got financing to start his first feature film “King Slayers” based on a famous novel by Stefan Stawinski (who wrote the scripts for Munk’s “Eroica” and “Bad Luck”), he died a few days before shooting started in 1981 of a heart attack, a day before his 35th birthday. AS/MT


Dekalog (1988)

IMG_0931Dir.: Krzysztof Kiešlowski

Cast: Wojciech Klata, Krystina Janda, Janusz Gajos, Jan Tesarz, Anna Polony,Ewa Blasczyk, Miroslaw Baka, Jerzy Stuhr

Poland/West Germany 1988/89, 572 min.

This ten-part TV series is often called “Kiešlowski’s Ten Commandments”, but nothing is further from the truth. In the first place, the director never believed “in the need for an arbitrator” like the Church, when it came to a credo. Secondly, Kiešlowski never thought that his films would change anything – never mind being taken as commandments: “At best some people will remember some parts of some of my films”. So the deeply pessimistic director was doubting everything human and, particularly, he had little faith in society in all its forms: after his nearly life-long attack on Stalinism, he was deeply disappointed with life in Poland under Capitalism.IMG_0929

Whilst the ten parts are loosely connected by their references to the ten commandments, they primarily depict chaos and a lack of human commitment to anything but the individual. Kiešlowski’s co-author, the lawyer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, found the basis of the narratives in newspaper articles, declaring “that more and more I came to the conclusion that humans did not know any more why they lived”. Even then, it becomes clear that the media, TV or computers had become much more important than human relationships themselves.

Shot in a soulless, claustrophobic suburbs of Warsaw, the norm is Hell: indifference, loneliness and absurdity rule. The episodes are dominated by cowardice, violence, dishonesty and opportunism; nearly everybody seems to be a crook of some kind. Kiešlowski is just an observer, perhaps symbolised by a young man (Artur Barcis), who appears briefly in every episode, but never participates. Stanley Kubrick described the DEKALOG as the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime.


DEKALOG offers no solutions at all, no home-made philosophies or didactic assistance; despite its comparative ‘triviality’ as a TV production, it presents no moral or ethical help to make us feel better. Perhaps “moral tragedy” is the right term for DEKALOG, even though Kieslowski would not have liked to call anything moral. His non-judgemental narratives pose questions, with the audience having to find the answers. This approach is perhaps best symbolised by the woman, in one of the episodes, who is pregnant by another man but only wants to carry the baby to term if her husband dies.

Kiešlowski was the last “metaphysical’ filmmaker in Europe, he is critical of all forms of society because they have chosen to live without any commandments, religious or otherwise. AS

(Dekalog Five and Six also exist as larger versions: “A Short Film About Killing” and “A Short Film About Love”)


Gods (Bogowie) 2014

Dir.: Lukasz Palkowski;

Cast: Tomasz Kot, Piotr Glowacki, S. Piotr Warszawski, Magdalena Czerwinska

120 min  Polish with subtitles  Drama

The ‘Gods’ of the title are three Polish heart surgeons who, under the leadership of maverick Dr. Zbigniew Religa (Kot), performed the first heart transplants in Poland in the mid-80s. Palkowski portrays Religa as a rebellious rock star rather than a stuffy medic; the unrelenting tempo of GODS matching Religa’s unrest.

We first meet our ‘hero’ in a Warsaw clinic hemmed in by bureaucracy and an entourage of flaccid colleagues, reminding us that medicine is run by traditionalists, whatever the country. When Religa saves the life of the son of a party official, on the pavement in front of the hospital (by extremely unorthodox means), he is given more freedom to flex his muscles. After loosing a teenage girl on the operating table, Religa and his colleagues Zembala (Glowacki) and Bochenek (Warszawski) re-locate to the provincial Silesian town of Zabrze where they are promised a ‘state of the art’ venue to perform heart transplants. But when they get there neither the operating theatres nor the funds are available. Religa doesn’t give up. Rather than returning to his long-suffering wife Anna (Czerwinska) in Warsaw, he commandeers a gang of new nurses to kick-start the building works; tricks the local party officials into giving him the grants; and performs in 1985 the first heart transplant on Polish soil.

Palkowski creates a sort of Wild-West atmosphere in Zabrze; everything seems possible for the chain-smoking Religa, who is as egoistical as he is daring. Driving like a bat out of hell through the countryside, he hires a dissident doctor and fights the secret police: he is an old-fashioned hero in the Errol Flynn mould: gung-ho and uncompromising; tough on himself and everyone around him; taking the medical establishment by storm; disregarding the rules and making his own.

The real Dr. Zbigniew Regila (1938-2009) went into politics, ran for president and was Minister for Health between 2005 and 2007. Whilst the laws of (political) reality are often stretched, the sheer panache of Regila and his crew keep us glued to the screen. Piotr Sobocinski’s camerawork is as vivid and innovative as the good doctor, and we’re rooting for him with bated breath as he overtakes everything on the road. The rest of the ensemble cast matches his manic enthusiasm, apart from Religa’s wife Anna (Magdalena Czerwinska) who sacrifices her career for her husband, in the only downside of this tour de force story. AS

On general release from 24 October 2014

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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 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.


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Traffic Department (2013) Drogowka Kinoteka 2014


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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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


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Tomasz Wasilewski – Filmmaker

Tomasz Wasilewski copyAs the opening credits of Floating Skyscrapers begin to unfold, the sound of water seeps onto the soundtrack, placing us audibly within the enclosed world of an indoor swimming pool. But embedded within the sounds of the waves, another noise becomes discernible: someone is, it would seem, undergoing an act of sexual pleasure. The credits make way, and the sounds continue over a symmetrical widescreen image of the swimming pools’ changing room doors, all closed. Whatever is happening, whatever we are hearing, is taking place inside these doors. But this is not for us to see. Instead, we go to our protagonist, Kuba, as he jogs along, the camera following in a fit of motion. Later, he will go to a party with his girlfriend Sylwia, and there he will meet a young man, Michal, with whom he will develop a love affair. It’s a striking set up for what has been dubbed Poland’s first LGBT film. 

Prior to the film’s release, Alex Barrett spoke to director Tomasz Wasilewski. 

Could you please describe Floating Skyscrapers in your own words? 

It’s a film about love, about finding one’s place in modern reality, about looking for one’s own self and fighting for it, which is never easy.

Can you say something about how the idea for the film originated? AWE_6720 copy

The first stimulus to write the story was a bus station in Warsaw. This place interested me and inspired [me] greatly as a filmmaker, and this is why most of the story took place there. Initially, it was a story about a fifty-year-old woman who worked at the station. The plot focused on her relationship with her daughter and the relationship between the daughter and another girl. I worked on the script for a long time and so it changed a lot. Each new version brought new characters and new solutions and finally, Floating Skyscrapers became a film about a guy, a swimmer who falls in love with another man.

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The characters in the film come across as being very nuanced. How much of this was written into the script, and how much came from the performances? 

It was already written into the script. This is how I construct my characters. Of course, a script is just a story on paper and actors are necessary to make it real. On the set I lead them in such a way that, so to speak, they play it inwards. I like it when actors are very emotional but hide their emotions and feelings all the time. They’re torn apart by them. Thanks to this, they are dramatic characters and such characters interest me most in the cinema. Playing with nuances, this is it!

Could you talk a little more about your approach to working with the actors, and how you direct them? 

Rehearsals for the movie lasted five months. It was very important to me that the actors understand their characters very thoroughly. I wanted them to know their soul and their emotions. For me, human truth is most important in a movie, the truth of the character. When it’s present, the viewer can identify with the characters even when they’re very different to him. I always ask actors not to play their characters but to become them.

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The relationship between Kuba and Sylwia is very messy, and I don’t think we see that kind of reality in cinema very often. Were you deliberately trying to show something not seen in other films, or just doing what felt right for the story? 

I always search for truth in movies. This is what’s most important to me. I never reflect on making a film in a specific way that is supposed to elicit a specific reaction. You can’t make auteur films like this. Characters are made of their emotions, of what they feel inside. This is what directs them and it is this internal state of being broken that is responsible for their decisions. There are no easy and simple situations in life, so there shouldn’t be any in a film either. All in all, a film is life.

During the first ten minutes of Floating Skyscrapers, Michal talks about films and Kuba watches one. Was Floating Skyscrapers intended as a comment on cinema in any way? 

When Kuba and Michał meet for the first time, Michał is talking about The Kid with a Bike, a film by the Dardenne brothers. Personally, I love this movie. When I was constructing this scene, I had just watched it. Of course, the film made a huge impression on me. I like films by the Dardenne brothers in general. It’s my way of paying tribute to them.

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Who else were you influenced by when making the film? 

I love the movies of Urlich Seidl, Michael Haneke, Darren Aronofsky and Steve McQueen. There are many directors whose work I respect – Sophia Coppola, David Fincher, Andrey Zvyagintsev. I watch a lot of movies and often go to the theatre, but I can’t determine how much the works of others influence my own works. I think there aren’t any direct inspirations. I make films my own way, intuitively.

There’s a lot of motion in the film: driving, running, swimming. It seems almost like the characters want to escape – and yet they never really do. Could you talk about what these passages of motion symbolised for you? 

This is exactly what it’s like with us – people. Very often we find ourselves in situations from which we want to escape but we don’t do this. A film needs to be as close to life as possible and characters in it similar to real people. Internally, we’re very complex, often broken and full of contradictions. And it’s the same in the case of the characters in Floating Skyscrapers. Does this carry any symbolic meaning? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. I work intuitively. I assume that if something moves me it will also move the viewers. I’m fascinated by characters who are lost, internally broken, who’ve reached a turning point in life. For me as a filmmaker, they’re most important, and such characters are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they want to escape and on the other, stay. Isn’t this what’s most beautiful in human nature?

AWE_6986 copy The film is beautifully shot. Can you talk about how you construct your images? 

I worked on it together with the cameraman, Kuba Kijowski. I asked him to use as many master shots and flat frame shots and as much fluorescent light as possible. These are the things I like in the film language. Besides, I chose places that were mostly built of concrete. During colour grading, Kuba was looking for an appropriate colour for the film and he decided that everything should be in silver. I think it was a brilliant idea. In addition to this, many images are in the colour of water, which is the natural environment for the protagonist. I attach a lot of weight to images in a film. They can’t be random and neither can be the places in which they’re shot.

Floating Skyscrapers has been called the first Polish LGBT film. Why do you think it has taken this long for it to happen, and why now? What’s changed?  

It was difficult, even very difficult, to find money for the film. The producers found a great number of private persons who started functioning as co-producers. It changed slightly after the world premiere at Tribeca IFF in NYC and also when we won East of the West Competition in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – then we found additional funding. In Floating Skyscrapers, the way in which the homosexual character is portrayed is new. Until now this was quite foreign to the Polish or even post-communist countries cinematography. Homosexual characters were usually in the background and depicted in a mocking way. Floating Skyscrapers portrays [the character] Kuba most of all as a human being; ok, he’s homosexual but it’s not what’s most important about him. Kuba is a son and a swimmer, he has his own dreams and he’s got a girlfriend. His homosexuality is not the most important thing, although it pushes him towards some decisions and sometimes determines his life.


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