Posts Tagged ‘kinoteka 2017’

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


Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2017 | 17 March – 5 April

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL is back for its 15th Edition showcasing the latest films from Poland in an enticing programme that includes a tribute to the late and great post-war legend ANDRZEJ WAJDA and a celebration of 70 YEARS OF POLISH ANIMATION

1249182_afterimage_04-h_2016During his impressive career spanning 7 decades and 56 films, Andrzej Wajda achieved international critical acclaim, winning a BAFTA and César Award (for Danton), both a Palme D’Or (Man of Iron) and Jury prize (Kanal) at Cannes, a Fipresci Prize at Venice (Ashes & Diamonds) a silver bear at Berlin for his lifetime contribution to cinema plus multiple lifetime achievement awards including Camerimage and the European Film Awards as well as winning Best Film at the Polish Film Awards (Katyn). He directly influenced a generation of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Agnieszka Holland (who assisted him on Man of Marble). His final film Afterimage (2016) has been chosen as Poland’s official nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, a fitting tribute to the most revered Polish filmmaker (above left).

Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Dir Andrzej Wajda. KadrThe Barbican Cinema and Close Up Cinema screening two complementary short retrospective seasons of Wajda’s films including rarely screened titles such as A Generation (1955), The Promised Land (1975) and Danton (1983) as well as iconic classics including Ashes and Diamonds (1958) (left) and his late masterpiece Katyn (2007).

IMG_3442In the New Polish Cinema Strand KINOTEKA will show the UK premiere of Marcin Koszalka’s psychological thriller The Red Spider (2015), described in the Karlovy Vary programme as “an intricate story of the fascination with evil that hides in places we would never expect, and there will be an opportunity to see Koszalka’s short documentary films including the autobiographical: Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To; about living with his verbally abusive parents. An in-depth exploration of the relationship between a 53 year old man and his mother; Til It Hurts (2008). And a long short documentary User Friendly Death (2007) that examines what actually happens after death, in a Polish funeral parlour and crematorium.

playground-h_2016There will be another chance to see one of the most shocking teenage thriller’s of 2016 Playground that echoes the tragic tale of Jamie Bulger in a rural Poland, and captured critics’ attention at last year’s London Film Festival. Don’t miss Jan P Matuszynski’s Locarno festival debut The Last Family that tells the real-life story of a fractious, dysfunctional family living on a bleak Warsaw housing estate and depicts the physical and emotional claustrophobia of their family dynamic. Michal Rosa’s multi-awarded Happiness of the World, a painterly comedy portrait of a journalist’s experiences in 1940s Silesia (main picture).

In this year’s Polish Masters Rediscovered strand KINOTEKA shines the spotlight on the incredible story of Polish filmmaker Wanda Jakubowska, the first prominent female figure in Polish film history. Jakubowska started her film career in the 1930s, during the war she was arrested in 1942 for being an active member of the Polish Resistance and imprisoned at Auschwitz for the rest of the war. The ICA will screen her landmark 1948 film, The Last Stage, which won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary. Based on her experiences at Auschwitz and in part shot on location, it is considered one of the most harrowing and immediate holocaust films ever made. The retrospective programme will also screen her post-war East German/DEFA production of Encounter at Twilight (1960). An expressionistic drama about a Polish pianist returning to the West German town where she had previously lived as a ‘forced labourer’ after the war, Jakubowska’s film was one of the highlights of the Post-war German Cinema retrospective programme screened this year at Locarno.

Before the Second World War, animated cinema was practically unknown in Poland until Zenon Wasilewski emerged as the pioneer of animated films. Best remembered for the groundbreaking animated puppet film In the Time of King Krakus (1947), now recognised as the first animated film in the history of the Polish School of Animation. KINOTEKA will be celebrating 70 years of Polish Animation with an extra special Closing Night Gala event at the Barbican Hall with a programme of classic films from the Polish School of Animation set to a specially commissioned live score, performed by leftfield indie band British Sea Power who have been previously responsible for a series of acclaimed film scores including Robert J Flaherty’s classic Man of Aran and Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea To The Land Beyond.


Man of Iron (1981) | Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Andrzej Wajda; Cast: Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Marian Opania, Krystina Janda; Poland 1981, 156 min.

Andrzej Wajda, who died last October aged 90, saw himself as the chronicler of Polish post-war history. MAN OF IRON is a direct sequel to Man of Marble (1977), which landed the director in hot water with the Stalinist censors, and not for the first or last time. Whilst MAN OF IRON would win the Palme d’Or in Cannes on the year of its release, Wajda had to shoot his next film, Danton, in France – before returning to Poland, for another round of fighting with the censors.

Set at the beginning of the Eighties, the journalist Winkel (Opania) is a borderline alcoholic, who works for State TV and Radio and is fed up with everything, including himself. He is sent by his boss to Gdansk to cover the Solidarnosc uprising where the strikers are seemingly winning, he has a clear directive: to find as much dirt as possible to smear the leader Maciej Tomcyk (Radziwiilowicz) – not only in the eyes of the public, but also those of his fellow strikers. But Winkel seems to wake up from a long intellectual and moral coma, and perversely joins Tomcyk and his cause. With the help of Agnieszka (Janda), who featured in Man of Marble, he discovers, that Tomcyk is the son of Mateusz Birkut (played also by Radziwilowic), an emblematic worker of regime, whose history Agnieszka researched in Man of Marble. It emerges that Birkut was killed in one of the earlier fights between Solidarnosc and the police during the Sixties. If you were puzzled by the ending of Man of Marble, this information is proof of the censorship which insisted on that Wajda remove a central part of his narrative. But what we also learn in MAN OF IRON is that Tomcyk is Birkut’s son, and is wrestling with a guilt complex, regarding the death of his father. Whilst Birkut and his fellow workers did not support the students in their strike against the system in the late Sixties, the students reciprocated leaving the workers alone in the early Seventies, when Birkut was killed. Winkel and Agnieszka (under surveillance by the secret police), both seem to find new identity in the renewed struggle.

It is quite clear that Wajda does not see MAN OF IRON as a work of fiction: whilst the colours are bleached out in the fictional parts, the black and white newsreel and documentary clips are much more vibrant. Furthermore, we see Lech Walesa, not only in the newsreel images, but he also acting in the film during Tomcyk’s wedding. It is fiction that informs the events, not the other way round.

With Wajda, the personal and the political are always deeply intertwined. Winkel and Agnieszka are the Alter Egos of the director, searching for the truth, sometimes defeated, but always ready to rise again. DoP Edward Klosinski (Man of Marble), again keeps the images of this Wajda epic memorable. Erasing the borders between fiction and documentary, the director creates an immediacy, which pulls the audience right into the cauldron of the confrontations. AS


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