Posts Tagged ‘Kinoteka film festival’

1970 (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 27 March LONDON 2022

 

 

A Woman at Night (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

The In-Laws (2021) Kinoteka 2022

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Leave No Traces (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

Camouflage (1976) Barwy Ochronne | Kinoteka 2020

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2020
  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinoteka (2020) Celebrating Polish Cinema | November 2020

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

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

12.11 | Iron Bridge | Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska

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

14.11 | Dark, Almost Night | Borys Lankosz

20.11 | Dolce Fine Giornata | Jacek Borcuch

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

27.11 | Mr Jones | Agnieszka Holland

28.11 | All For My Mother | Małgorzata Imielska

06.12 | Rock’n’Roll Eddie | Tomasz Szafrański 

DOCUMENTARIES EYE-OPENING STORIES FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE

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

19.11 | Our Little Poland |Bobik Matiej

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

03.12 | In Touch | Pawel Ziemilski

RETROSPECTIVES UNDISCOVERED MASTERS

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

12.11 – 6.12 | Shivers | Wojciech Marczewski

12.11 – 6.12 | Camouflage | 1977 | Krzysztof Zanussi

12.11 – 6.12 | The Cruise | 1970 | Marek Piwowski

EXTENDED PROGRAMME

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

Venue TBC | Mister T (Marcin Krzyształowicz)

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

OFFICIAL TRAILER

 

In Touch (2018) *** Kinoteka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 4 -18 APRIL 2019

 

Monument (2018) *** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4 -18 APRIL 2019  

   

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

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

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

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

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

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

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

RETROSPECTIVES 

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

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

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

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

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

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

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

DOCUMENTARIES 

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

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

 

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