Posts Tagged ‘Polish Arthouse’

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 

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.

NOW ON BLURAY VIA ARROW FILMS | EARLY WORKS BY KIESLOWSKI

 

Possession (1981) ****

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

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

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

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

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

LEXI CINEMA | KENSAL RISE OVERGROUND | FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Corpus Christi (2019) ****

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

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE AUDIENCE | 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

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) 

https://youtu.be/ZmLmbij1W0s

Nationwide from 20 September 2019

My Friend the Polish Girl (2018) ***

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

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Fugue | Fuga (2018) Kinoteka 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 4 -18 APRIL 2019

 

Monument (2018) *** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4 -18 APRIL 2019  

   

Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowyck (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW EUROPE FILM SALES

 

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

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

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

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

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

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

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

RETROSPECTIVES 

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

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

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

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

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

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

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

DOCUMENTARIES 

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

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

 

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.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT CURZON AND SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL |BEST DIRECTOR AWARD 2018

Mug – Twarz (2018) Bfi player

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Poland

In this salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work.

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. It refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Western Polish town of Świebodzin with his petty, provincial family. Despite best intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara (Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – a statue of Christ the King, and the tallest representation of the saviour so far. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to the expensive medical bills. And the result may be quite different from the Jacek they knew and loved. And the after effects are quite different, although by no means as bad as the family feared. That said, even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But when Dagmara shuns him, her rejection strikes to core of his being as a lover and man. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska cleverly navigates tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. The film also tackles religious belief and the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER from 15 OCTOBER 2021 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE BERLINALE 2018
PRESS CONFERENCE 

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

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.

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

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.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY |BEST DIRECTOR AWARD

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | LONDON

Bestia (1917) ** | Kinoteka London 2018

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 29 MARCH 2018

Kinoteka 2018 | 7 – 29 March 2018

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

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

NEW POLISH CINEMA IS A WOMAN:

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

#PL100INDEPENDENCE

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

CELEBRATING JEWISH-POLISH CINEMA

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

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

SUPPER CLUB CINEMA

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

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

FESTIVAL GUESTS 

Jakub Gierszał (TBC)

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

Joanna Kos-Krauze

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

Maria Sadowska

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

Krzysztof Zanussi

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

KINOTEKA 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018

Mug (Twarz) **** (2018) | Berlinale 15-25 February 2018 | Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Pol |

In the latest salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work. 

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. And refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Świebodzin (Western Poland) with his provincial-minded and petty family. Despite intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara(Małgorzata Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – the statue of Christ the King, which is currently the tallest representation in the World. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to expensive, ongoing medical bills for a man who may be quite different from the one they knew and loved. Even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look – which is by no means monstrous (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But worse of all, Dagmara shuns him. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska masterfully manages the tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. She also reflects on religious belief an the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE
PRESS CONFERENCE 

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) Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA 2017 | 4 APRIL 18.30 | BARBICAN

Something Better to Come | Kinoteka Film Festival 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017

Playground |Plac zbaw (2016) | Kinoteka 2017

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

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

88min | Thriller | Poland

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA 2017 | 19 MARCH 15.00 | REGENT STREET CINEMA

Afterimage | Powidoki (2016) | Kinoteka Polish Film Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA IN TRIBUTE TO ANDRZEJ WAJDA

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA 2017 | 17 MARCH 5 APRIL 2017

Innocent Sorcerers | Niewinni Czarodzie (1960) | Kinoteka 2017

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Drama | Poland | 87min

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

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

KINOTEKA 2017 | 24 MARCH 19.30 | CLOSE-UP CINEMA

 

Man of Marble (1976-7) | Kinoteka 2017

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

Cast: Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda, Jacek Lomnicki

Poland 1977, 165 min.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Promised Land (1975) | Ziemia Obiecana | Kinoteka 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 KINOTEKA 2017 | 16 March 19.00 | CLOSE-UP CINEMA

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The 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

THE HIGH FRONTIER WON BEST SOUND AT THE POLISH FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

 

Waves | Fale (2016) | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 1 – 9 July 2016

Dir: Grzegorz Zariczny;

Cast: Anna Kesek, Katazyna Kopec, Tomasz Schimscheiner, Jolanta Olzewska, Edyta Torhan

Drama | Poland 2016 | 71 min

Grzegorz Zariczny revives contemporary Polish cinema with this feature debut WAVES which draws on his experience as a documentarian and is based on the experiences of one of the lead actors. In its brevity and non-polemic style, WAVES has something in common with the early work of  Krzysztof Kieslowski who also started his career in documentaries, producing through the Munk Studio, as Zariczny has done.

Teenagers Ania (Kesek) and Kasia (Kopec) dream of being successful hairdressers and are apprenticed in a salon run by the bitter, disillusioned Mrs Szefowa (Torhan), who is also an unpleasant boss. To be fair, Ania has no natural talent, and despite her friend Kasia’s encouragement, she tries to blame her distant mother and alcoholic father (Schimscheiner) for her ineptitude in her chosen career. Kasia’s parents are loving in comparison and she is close to her mother. Ania hopes for the best when her mother announces a reunion, getting the family together for a dinner.

There are some strong performances here but this resonant slice of social realism is really brought to life by DoP Weronica Bilska whose evocative camerawork brilliantly evokes the grim post-industrial cityscape of Krakow’s Nova Huta district; the former industrial hub of this great Southern city now lies empty and neglected, the streets lined with shabby housing and high rise blocks. But strangely enough Ania’s father, a painter and decorator, has managed to cobble together a decent modern flat with furniture that Ania despises: “it’s too new and too clean” she tells Kasia, who, in turn, starts sleeping over more and more often, preferring it to the run-down hovel she lives in with her parents.

Zariczny pictures this corner of modern Poland almost on its knees; the old are nostalgic for the Stalinist past (which was no better than the present) and frozen in a static grip of negativity, whilst the young are disenchanted. What emerges is a country that has failed to reinvigorate its previously thriving industry, with the talented and ambitious seeking their fortunes abroad or in the large cities. AS

WAVES has its WORLD PREMIERE at KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 1-9 JULY 2016

Phaedra(s) | The Barbican

Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski | Dramaturgy Piotr Gruszczynski

Performed by: Isabelle Huppert, Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra, Alex Descas, Gael Kamilindi, Norah Krief, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, Gregoire Leaute

220min | Drama | Poland | France

It seems fitting that one of Greek tragedy’s most controversial figures should be played by one of film and stage’s most enigmatic French actors, Isabelle Huppert, who makes a rare London appearance to play three roles (Aphrodite, Phaedra and Elizabeth Costello) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s radical and visionary French Polish production which bewilders and bewitches despite occasional longueurs.

His PHAEDRA(S) takes the form of three versions of the Greek myth, blending fresh material from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad with the provocative text of Sarah Kane’s brutal ‘Phaedra’s Love’ and extracts from J M Coetzee’s novel ‘Elizabeth Costello’.

In 2010, Warlikowski cast Huppert in his version of A Streetcar Named Desire and this captured his imagination to create her three incarnations here as she morphs seamlessly from the sexually manipulative Aphrodite taking revenge on Hippolytus, then switching to Phaedra and finally to the perverse Elizabeth Costello.

Hot on the heels of her intoxicating performance in Paul Verhoeven’s outré ‘rape comedy’ ELLE, that premiered at Cannes in May, Huppert struts provocatively around the stage in a range of raunchy rigouts from Dior, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Givenchy during an evening that perpetually teeters on the brink of elegant outrage. During the opening scenes she strips down to her blood-stained undies before girating in angst-ridden love-sickness on a bed, throwing up into a sink and fatally climaxing in the arms of her step-son Hyppolyte 1, a coltishly exotic Gaël Kamilindi who slinks in as a black dog.

In the second and most protracted segment, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name Of) plays Hippolyte as a bored and bloated playboy sulking in a sliding glass enclosure (representing his regal quarters) where he is entertained by the intoxicatingly rhythmic dance routines of Rosalba Torres Guerrero while Hitchcock’s Psycho plays in the background, in the first of the production’s three references to the film world. Jessica Lange’s lobotomy scene in Clifford’s Frances (1982) plays during the final Coetzee segment along with Pasolini’s ’60s allegory Teorema, which cleverly draws a parallel with Silvana Mangano’s chic but sexually frustrated Milanese mother. In final strand Huppert plays conference speaker Elizabeth Costello who disdains Chyra’s intellectually arrogant interviewer during a conference debate that uses Frances, German Romantic poet Höderlin who incorporated Greek tragedy into his 19th century works, and Racine’s 17th century version of Phèdre as its pivotal conversation points. Of the three parts, this is possibly the most amusing but also the most challenging.

In sharp contrast to the starkly elegant stage sets (marbled walls, chrome shower heads and contemporary low level Italian furniture) and haute couture, the cast bravely submits to the full complement of human physical and emotional degradations: crying, pleading, throwing up, bleeding and crawling on all fours with open legs.

Isabelle Huppert’s coruscating emotional intensity ranges from the sarcastically perverse Costello to the proud posturing of Aphrodite and the clipped sardonic diction and soulful sobbing of Phaedra, making us scorn and then pity her characters within minutes. Amusement jostles shock and contempt. Agata Buzet (11 Minutes) is potently feline and as Phaedra’s real daughter Strophe. And there is a dizzying dance from Guerrero. Complimented by Pawel Mykietyn’s arresting atmospheric score this is an often bewildering but ultimately rewarding production. MT

PHAEDRA(S) | BARBICAN THEATRE EC2 | TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

 

Walkover (1965) Walkower | Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Identification Marks: None (1965) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

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

73min | Drama | Poland

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

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

KINOTEKA | 7 -28 APRIL 2016

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

Director.: Jerzy Sklolimowski

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

76min | 1967/1981 | Poland

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

Europa, Europa (1990) Mubi

Dir.: Agnieszka Holland | Cast: Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Andre Wilms, Delphine Forest; Germany, France, Poland | 112 min | Drama | Germany France Poland

Polish director Agnieszka Holland follows her mentor Andrzej Wajda from Poland to France for this true story of Solomon Perel. Based on his memoirs, it focuses on his extraordinary escape from Nazis Germany and his successful time in the Hitler Youth.

Young Solomon (‘Solly’) (Hofschneider) loses his sister on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah at the Kristall Nacht Pogrom. After the family emigrates to Poland, Solomon flees with his brother to the USSR at the outbreak of the War, but the siblings are separated. In the USSR he fetches up in an orphanage falling in love with the attractive teacher Inna (Delphine Forest). After the Nazi army overruns his village, he burns his identity papers and calls himself Joseph Peters, claiming to be of German blood. The German soldiers take to him, and use him as a translator. In this capacity he helps to interrogate Yakov Dzhugashvilli, Stalin’s son. He witnesses the atrocities of the Germans against the Russian population, but has to stay quiet, since he is now the mascot of his division, under the nickname of ‘Jupp’ given by his protector Hauptmann Kellermann (Wilms). The soldiers deem that ‘Jupp’ should have a good education in Germany, where he joins the Hitler Youth Academy – but not before being seduced by a middle-aged Nazi functionary, Rosemary, who climaxes with an ecstatic “Heil Hitler”.

At the Elite School, ‘Jupp’ then falls for Leni, a member of the “Bund Deutscher Mädchen“ (the female equivalent of the Hitler Jugend). After a particularly vicious anti-Jewish outburst, Jupp abandons Leni, who soon falls pregnant by Jupp’s best friend Gerd. Leni’s mother, well aware that Jupp is Jewish, does not give him away. When the Russians occupy Germany, Jupp is saved by his brother Isaac, as the Russians (rightly) do not believe that a Jew could be a member of the Hitler Youth. Finally Solomon Perel emigrates to Palestine, where he does not have to hide his Jewish identity any more – he can be Solly again..

Jacek Petrycki’s visuals underline the epic narrative with long panning shots and panoramic views of the fighting scenes; the images often reminiscent of Soviet realism. Hofschneider is utterly believable as the naïve boy who has to fight throughout the whole film to keep his circumcised penis from view. Holland directs with great sensibility, struggling to control the rather sensationalist plot. This is not her fault: most feature films about the Holocaust are by nature melodramatic but this should never submerge the tragic events. Often unavoidably cliché-ridden, Europa Europa, is a good example of why – after Lanzman’s Shoah – feature films, how ever well meant, rarely offer new information on the crimes against humanity, and very often detract from the real events by unintended trivialisation. AS

NOW ON MUBI UK

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA 2021 

 

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

Director |Writer.: Jacek Bromski

Cast: Krisztof Stroinski, Marcin Kowalczyk, Michalina Olszanska

117min | Poland 2015 | Action Thriller

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 7 – 27 APRIL 2016

Deep End (1970) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

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

88min | Drama | UK/Germany 1970

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 -28 APRIL 2016

 

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

Director: Aleksander Hertz   Writer: Stanislaw Jerzy Kozlowski

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

Drama | Silent | Poland

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

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

The Devil | Diabel (1972) | Kinoteka 2016

Director|Writer: Andrzej Zulawski

Cast: Leszek Teleszynski, Wojciech Pszniak, Malgorzata Braunek

Poland 1972, 119 min.

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA RUNS UNTIL 28 APRIL AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON

Barrier (1966) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Jan Nowicki, Joanna Szczerbic, Taddeus Lomnicki

Poland 1966, 84 min.

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

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

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

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

KINOTEKA 7 – 28 APRIL 2016

Demon (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Marcin Wrona  Screenwriters: Marcin Wrona, Pawel Maslona

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

92min | Horror | Poland/Israel

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

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

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

KINOTEKA LONDON | 7 April – 28 April 2016

 

Strange Heaven (2015)

Director: Dariusz Gajewski

Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Bartlomiej Topa, Barbara Kubiak

107min | Drama | Poland Sweden

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2016 | 7 APRIL

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | London 7 – 29 April 2016

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

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

J e r z y   S k o l i m o w s k i

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

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

A g n i e s z k a   H o l l a n d

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

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

A n d r z e j   Ż u ł a w s k i

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

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

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A

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

Closing Night Gala

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

KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -29 APRIL 2016 

These Daughters of Mine (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Writer| Director: Kinga Debska

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

88min | Drama | Poland

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 – 28 APRIL 2016  

 

Goodbye, See you Tomorrow (1960) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Janusz Morgenstern Writer: Zbigniew Cybulski

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

88min  | Drama  | Poland

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

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 7 APRIL – 28 APRIL 2016 

Provincial Actors | AKTORZY PROWINCJONALNI |Kinoteka 2016

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

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

KINOTEKA 7-28 April 2016

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

Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska  Writer: Roberto Bolesto

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

Thriller | Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

KINOTEKA | RUNS FROM 8 APRIL UNTIL 29 MAY IN LONDON AND NATIONWIDE

 

11 Minuty | 11 Minutes | Competition Venice 2015 | LFF 2015

Writer|Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Richard Dormer, Agata Buzek, Dawid Orgodnik, Andrzej Chyra, Piotr Glowacki, Jan Nowicki

During the sixties, writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski focused on films that explored the ironic aspects and moral dilemmas affecting ordinary individuals in post-Stalinist Poland. His films were the ‘Impressionists’ of an era dominated by the sweeping epics of the Polish Film School. After collaborating in Polanski’s Knife in the Water, his directorial debut, Rysopsis (Identification Marks: None) 1965 was closely followed by Walkower. Since then, the 77-year-old Polish auteur has written, directed and acted in works ranging from the surreal to the dramatic, as here in his first film for five years: Venice Competition entry 11 MINUTES.

Best described as a suspense thriller, 11 MINUTES explores themes of fate and paranoia. Set in the sweeping urban spaces of contemporary Warsaw, it could also be entitled Crossover, dealing, as it does, with eleven minutes in the lives of a random bunch of characters whose lives collide in the centre of the capital. Wildly frenetic and octane-fuelled, the action unfurls chaotically with moments of surreal beauty and hard-edged passion. Invasion of privacy insinuates the narrative in the shape of security cameras, webcams and mobile phones which track the protagonists during this frenzied few minutes of precision filmmaking.

Tracking the various strands of the story, it’s easy to miss out on the pyrotechnics and wizardry of the expert camerawork and cutting-edge visual effects involving a crew of eight specialists lead by cinematographer Mikolaj Lebowski. There is a tacky film director (Richard Dormer) putting a newly married actress (Paulina Chapko) through her auditioning paces in a sleek hotel penthouse, her jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) heads towards the building in hot pursuit, sporting a black eye (they argued earlier). Nearby, an ex-con hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra | In the Name Of) makes a point of remembering his customers’ orders to the letter and takes pride in serving a group of nuns and a young girl (Ifi Ude) with a dog. A window cleaner slips in from the high-rise block for a spot of home movie watching with his girlfriend, who joins him in one of the luxury bedrooms. A student thief (Lukasz Sikora) makes a abortive attempt at a robbery; and perhaps the most exciting – a motorcycle courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) visits his lover and almost gets caught ‘in flagrante’ by her high-powered husband on his return home to their villa in leafy luxury nearby. A group of ambulance paramedics try to take a heavily pregnant woman (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska) and a dying man (Janusz Chabior) to hospital from the highest floor of a mansion block. And last, but not least, veteran actor Jan Nowicki makes an appearance as a water-colourist painting quietly by the banks of the Vistula river.

Thrilling, bewildering and at times quite exhausting to take in, Skolimowski’s dramatic storyline is not the most involving or satisfying of experiences. Like a vintage wine, this is a multi-layered tour de force whose infinite subtleties will emerge with each viewing.  The mesmerising set-pieces are brilliantly crafted and certainly amongst the most extraordinary action sequences ever committed to film.  The final moments are simply breath-taking and mark out Jerzy Skolimowski as a director who, after 50 years, is still quite clearly at the top of his game. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

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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).

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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.

Danish

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

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

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 
Special Mention – THE PROJECT OF THE CENTURY
Audience Award – GOODNIGHT MOMMY – review below

Goodnight_Mommy_3

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

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JAK DALEKO STAD, JAK BLISKO (HOW FAR, HOW NEAR)

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

15TH NEW HORIZONS | WROCLAW INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JULY – 3 AUGUST 2015

 

 

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival | 3 – 11 July 2015 | Winners

The 50th Anniversary of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival takes place at the Spa Town, just a stone’s throw from the Czech capital Prague. This year’s Crystal Globe was won by a charming American feature film BOB AND THE TREES where the main character, logger and rap fan Bob Tarasuk, plays himself. US citizen Tarasuk, hails from Czech stock: his grandmother was Czech and grandfather Ukrainian. 238-home-care

Czech films included in the Competition included some great performances: Alena Mihulová received the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of a dedicated nurse in Slávek Horák’s debut HOME CARE (right) and Kryštof Hádek received the Best Actor Award as the problematic younger brother in the drama THE SNAKE BROTHERS directed by Jan Prušinovský.

938-antoniaThe Special Jury Prize was awarded to Austrian director Peter Brunner for  THOSE WHO FALL HAVE WINGS, (below right), a drama on coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Kosovan Visar Morina received the Best Director Award for his film BABAI, a story about a small boy setting off on a journey to find his father. The jury also awarded two Special Mentions to animated biography THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, directed by Anca Damian, and the drama ANTONIA, (right) a tragic story of Italy’s most famous female poet .

The prize for the best film of the East of the West Competition was awarded to social drama THE WEDNESDAY CHILD by the Hungarian director Lili Horváth, a tale of a young girl who wants to secure better circumstances for her child than she had. A Special Mention was awarded to Romanian film The World Is Mine.

606-those-who-fall-have-wingsThe Grand Prix for Best Documentary Film went to Helena Třeštíková for her latest long-term documentary MALLORY. The jury also awarded a Special Mention to Austrian film The Father Tapes. The prize for the best documentary film up to 30 minutes in length was awarded to WHITE DEATH, a story of a Chilean military company trapped in the snow told using a variety of formats and animation techniques. The Special Mention in this category was granted to WOMEN IN SINK, a visit to an Israeli beauty salon. The Forum of Independents Award went to American transgender comedy TANGERINE, shot by director Sean Baker on an iPhone 5.

red_spider_photoHIGHLIGHTS

Seven World premieres and six international premieres competed including HEIL Dietrich Bruggemann’s satire centred on neo-Nazis, which sounds quite different from his sombre 2014 Berlinale outing Stations of the Cross. Polish director Marcin Koszalka’s debut THE RED SPIDER (left) created plenty of buzz – it’s a psychological thriller inspired by true events from the Fifties, where we’re encouraged to see things from the killer’s perspective.  GOLD COAST (main pic) is a Danish drama about a young maverick who embarks on a journey to the Danish Colonies to set up a coffee plantation. BABAI is a rites of passage road drama from Kosovar filmmaker Visar Morina. ANTONIA explores the tragic life of poet, Antonia Pozzi, Italy’s greatest female poet.

 

song-of-songsThere is a distinctly Eastern flavour to the features from the two female filmmakers in Competition. Another title that has been getting some good reviews is Eva Neymann’s tender and touching  SONG OF SONGS: images of the lost world of the Jewish Shtetl at the turn of the 20th Century is seen through the eyes of two teenage lovers (right), and Anca Damian’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN explores a mujahedin fighter’s adventures during the Afghanistan wars.

There were seven screen debuts in the Competition line-up – the winner THE SOUND OF TREES, is Canadian filmmaker François Peloquin’s coming of age feature debut set in the Québec landscape (main pic).

FORUM OF INDEPENDENTS

Brazilian director Ives Rosenfeld’S world premiere of HOPEFULS (Aspirantes), takes light-hearted look at the world of football through the eyes of a young man and his girlfriend. And Kim Ki-duk’s latest offering STOP is a bizarre drama centring on a couple who are gradually descending into meltdown in the aftermath radiation sickness caused by Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor.

DOCUMENTARY STRAND

202-i-am-belfastThe Documentary Films strand included the international premiere of ‘poetic and moving’ I AM BELFAST, from English director Mark Cousins who reveals the history of Belfast through the ancient eyes of an 10,000 year old woman. The score is composed by David Holmes.

At finally, it takes an English woman, Cosima Spender, to make a film about the Sienese Palio, an ancient and daring horse race that takes place annually in the Florentine city. PALIO’s editor, Valerio Bonelli, was the editor of award-winning titles: Philomena, Hannibal Rising and Gladiator and the documentary won a prize at Tribeca earlier this year (below).513-palio

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 3 -11 JULY 2015 | KARLOVY VARY | CZECH REPUBLIC

The Wedding (Wesele) 1972 | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Andrzej Wajda

102min  Drama  Poland

WESELE (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. AS

KINOTEKA 2015 | POLISH MASTERPIECES |MARTIN SCORSESE SELECTS 8 APRIL – 29 MAY

Impressionists (2015)

s0050V1962_gpca copyDirector: Phil Grabsky

Cinematography: David Bickerstaff

With: Director of Sotheby’s: Phillip Hook;

100min   Art Documentary | THE MAN WHO BOUGHT 1000 MONETS – PAUL DURAND-RUEL

Phil Grabsky is an award-winning filmmaker who has devised a successful and cinematic way of presenting art exhibitions as full length documentaries which he distributes to arthouse cinemas and television in over 100 countries. His latest such enterprise is THE IMPRESSIONISTS that explores the 19th century art movement through the story of the Frenchman who realised the potential of this group of young artists and created the modern art market in the process. Paul Durand Ruel nearly bankrupted himself twice, before successfully finding a way to market his artists’ paintings all over the World, making Impressionism the household name that stands today.

To make this documentary, Grabsky takes his crew to the Musee de Luxembourg in Paris, the National Gallery in London and the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art in Pennsylvania, where art curators, historians and the family of Durand-Ruel offer fascinating insights into the works of the Impressionist painters while we tour the extensive collections both on the widescreen and in close-ups to reveal the brushstrokes that the naked eye would not necessarily appreciate.  There are also commentaries from Rachel Campbell Johnson, and two grand-daughters of M Durand-Ruel.

The mid-nineteenth century Paris of the Impressionists was fascinating. Sotheby’s director and author, Philip Hook explains the origins of the Art market and how the Parisians visited art exhibitions as if they were shops; often buying small painting or renting more expensive works of art to impress their guests at a soirée or to copy them for posterity. Paintings focused on religious or moral themes but by 1859, many people were growing bored and were desperate for something new and original.

Paul Durand-Ruel starting helping his father who ran an art gallery in Paris, where he began to add his own choices introducing works of lesser known artists such a Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Manet and soon, Camille Pissarro, who he met while in London. Against the tide of negative public opinion, Durand-Ruel paddled his canoe, often sailing close to bankruptcy in his efforts to energise the more traditional and tenets of academic paintings in the Salons. The invention of paint in tubes meant that artists could venture outside with the work, such as the Barbizon movement, that pioneered paintings based on realistic scenes of outdoor life, of farmers and country dwellers ‘en plein air’.

During the Franco-Prussian war, Durand-Ruel, like many Parisians, escaped to London and when he returned, the old order had fallen and there was a genuine feeling of change and revolution in the air. He continued to support the artists, despite being a single father with five children of his own. Impressionism was born out of a perjorative term used by the Press of the era but after the painters had organised their own collective in 1874 the term was in general use. Crucially, Durand-Ruel was the first dealer to offer monograph exhibitions which led to the expression: ‘marking the temperament’ of the individual artists. The well-crafted documentary ends on a positive note when Durand-Ruel, on the verge of financial ruin, travels to America with a selection of his paintings.

Grabsky’s film is brilliantly edited by Clive Mattock, consistently providing interest and commentary intercut with sweeping views of the collections in Paris, London and Philadelphia and accompanied by an atmospheric occasional piano score composed by Stephen Baysted. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 25 MAY 2015 AT CINEMAS AND ON DVD

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.

ON MUBI FROM6 JULY 2022

 

 

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2015, POLISH FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON | EDINBURGH

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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

The State I Am In (2000) | Der Innere Sicherheit

Dir.: Christian Petzold | Cast: Julia Hummer, Barbara Auer, Richy Müller, Bilge Bingul | Germany 2000, 106 min.

Petzold’s debut feature, co-written with the filmmaker Harun Farocki, who was his lecturer at the Berlin Film and TV Academy, already shows a unique style and content, which would make him into one of the few German directors whose films have become cult classics outside Germany. Petzold avoids the ‘thesis’ approach of many of his compatriots, but tells a story from a personal viewpoint, leaving the audience guessing ’til the end.

THE STATE I AM IN could easily have been another dogmatic and sterile film about the anarchists of the Baader-Meinhof group; instead, Petzold shows a teenager struggling with adolescence, living with her parents, who are on the run from the police. Jeanne (Hummer) would love to be an ordinary teenager, but when we meet her for the first time in a costal resort in Portugal (Cascais), she is under constant surveillance from her parents, who are afraid that their daughter might accidentally blow their own cover. When Jeanne meets Hamburger, Heinrich (Bingul), in a café near the beach, she starts to fall in love with him – and his stories. Heinrich tells her that his mother committed suicide in the swimming pool of a villa, which he and his wealthy father abandon after her death. Jeanne’s parents Clara (Auer) and Hans (Müller) are planning to go to Brazil, to start a new life. But thieves rob their apartment and the key to a locker at the train station, where the money for their emigration is stored. The family travels to Hamburg to raise the money for flights to Brazil, meeting ex-members of their gang, who have since made their peace with the authorities. Jeanne leads her parents to Heinrich’s abandoned villa, where they take up resident. But Jeanne meets Heinrich again, by accident, living in a local hostel. Whilst they sees each other secretly, her parents plan to rob a bank. When her father is injured in a shootout, and Clara kills a guard, Jeanne finally tells Heinrich of her predicament, setting the cat amongst the pigeons in a tragic denoument.

In this moody thriller, Petzold engages in the state of mind of his protagonists, delivering a good analysis of the “Red Army Front”. The film successfully unravels an important part of West German history after WWII. Instead of taking sides, Petzold lets the audience discover the parallels between the make-believe world of Clara and Hans on one side of the narrative, and Heinrich on the other: both sides dream of a life in a different reality. Jeanne is caught between these two, unable to make sense of her parent’s bourgeois demands for a good education, and their status as criminals.

One of the most significant scenes of the film is a meeting between Jeanne’s parents and another ex-member of their group, where Jeanne is used as a go-between, carrying a copy of “Moby Dick” (Andreas Baader’s code name in the RAF was ‘Captain Ahab’) as a sign of identification. Here we see the dilemma of the members of the “Red Army Front” of the first and second generation, who usually came from middle class background and were well read’ believing in cultural values. These traits of their upbringing were fatal in their assessment of the political situation: they believed in the fictional world of books and films, and not in realistic power politics. It was a near psychotic delusion, to believe that a handful of middle-class dropouts could overturn a state security system with far superior manpower and technology.

The RAF’s argument – that Germany was still ruled by leading members of the Nazi Party – was absolute valid: Heinrich Erhardt, chancellor of West Germany from 1963-1966, was a member of the SS-Finance Organisation, his direct superior, Ohlendorf, was sentenced to death in Nuremberg; and Erhardt’s successor, Kiesinger, was a high-ranking member of Goebbel’s propaganda ministry – not a mention the huge number of civil servants and policemen of the old regime still in their posts – like the majority of the Berlin police force who beat up demonstrators in West Berlin on a regular basis, having served beforehand in the murderous repression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising..

But the RAF (and their sympathizers) did not acknowledge that this political status quo could only exist with the consent of the huge majority of the West German population, well-known for hiding war criminals for decades after WWII. The RAF’s failure was to see themselves as city-guerillas, supported by the majority of the population, whilst in reality they were a romantic sprinkling, turning to violence and being met by a much better prepared state force which crushed them to the applause of the huge majority. They left realistic opponents of the West German post-war system in a thankless position where they could defend the deeds of either side. Whilst the RAF’s violence was nothing compared with that of Nazism, the anarchists legitimised those in power in West Germany, who could rightly claim they upheld the peace against the ‘left wing’ perpetrators.

Apart from offering an entry into a wider political discussion there are some solid performances, particularly outstanding is Hummer’s Jeanne as a victim of parental delusions and neglect. Hans Fromm’s camera follows the trio, his shady visuals mirroring their paranoid view of the world, where everything could turn violently against them at any moment. Petzold’s debut is a convincing thriller with a cause, showing the sad state of mind of self-declared ‘liberators’ in this moving German-noir. AS

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON | along with BARBARA AND PHOENIX, AND JERICHOW

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

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 17 APRIL 2015

Hardkor Disko (2014) | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Krzysztof Skonieczny

Writers: Robert Bolesto

Cast: Marcin Kowalczyk, Jasmina Polak, Agniesszka Wosinska, Janusz Chabior, Ewa Skonieczna

85min  Thriller   Polish with subtitles

Krzysztof Skonieczny uses techniques from Polish Masters to offer a chilling view of contemporary Poland.

Marcin, the central character of HARDKOR DISKO, is similar in many ways to the infamous Jacek (Lazar) who played the psychopath in Kieslowski’s A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (1988). In the feature debut of young Polish director Krzysztog Skoniesczny (which has the identical running time to Killing) Marcin is a textbook psychopath who appears in an upmarket suburb of Warsaw to infiltrate the lives of a professional family. Nearly thirty years later than his counterpart Jacek, who focused on a hapless taxi driver, our contemporary protag is considerably more urbane and charming than his predecessor, but still has no money, and seemingly no job.

images-2He meets Ola (Jasmina Polak) a spoilt twenty-something, at the entrance to her family’s penthouse and after being told that her parents are away, he joins her on an drug-fuelled evening climaxing in a prolonged bout of meaningless sex, doggie-style, in Ola’s stylish bedroom. Marcin’s Warsaw is considerably more prosperous than that of Jacek’s era and the jagged skyline of this cold-lensed thriller is perfectly captured by Kacper Fertacz (who honed his skills on Lars von Trier’s Melancholia) whose framing echoes that of Jerzy Skolismowski’s Walkower (1965), often on the widescreen and in harmony with its voyeuristic and detached feel.  There may be more money flushing around in this contemporary Warsaw but there is still the same feeling of disenchantment and alienation that also permeated Kieslowski’s eighties outing.

The next morning, Marcin flips into convivial mode (but with the same flat emotionless stare) as he meets Ola’s parents Pola (Agnieszka Wosinska), a theatre designer, and Olek (Janusz Chabior) an snarky architect, at their breakfast table overlooking Warsaw’s modern skyline. There is something glib and unlikeable about these characters yet HARDKOR DISKO is strangely compelling, drawing you into its icy stare, half expecting a slap on the face by some sudden brutal revelation.  But that is the point. The compulsion here lies in the lack of information provided and our inquisitiveness draws us further into this web of seeming intrigue, a clever ploy adopted by Jerzy Kawalerowicz in his noir thriller Night Train (1959).

Indeed, Marcin, (superbly played by Marcin Kowalczyk) is a suave and beautiful stranger, in the same mould as Leon Niemczyk’s Jerzy in Night Train: an adventurer and opportunist who can turn on the charm like a lightbulb and snap it off again, remaining a cypher at all times. Representing disenfranchised youth, he is clearly bored and ‘hungry’ but he is also out for revenge. After accepting a lift with Olek, he strangles him (from the rear, like our eighties villain Jacek), drags him from his jeep, ties him up and then places a cigarette, lit end into his mouth, slowly asphyxiating him with the fumes, before breaking his neck. Marcin’s aloofness continues in this elusive thriller that is, in some ways, more of a mood piece evoking the general state of contemporary Poland both for its upwardly mobile protagonists and the ones left behind. HARDKOR DISKO remains highly watchable, despite Skonieczny’s tendency to linger over shots,  particularly noticeable in the last shower scene, as the enigmatic narrative moves inexhorably to a disturbing anticlimax. Flashbacks to Ola, as a bright vivacious child, show a glimpse of happier more meaningful times. Whilst Poland has moved into more affluent times, Krzysztof Skonieczny HARDKOR DISKO suggests that new cracks have opened in modern Poland’s facade: they may be different from those of the past, but they are just as noticeable. MT

SCREENING AT KINOTEKA 2015 POLISH FILM FESTIVAL

The Constant Factor | Constans (1980) | Kinoteka 2015 |

DIR: Krzysztof Zanussi

Tadeuz Bradecki, Zofia Mrozowska, Malgorazata Zajaczkowska, Cezary Morawski

98min  Drama  Polish with Subtitles

Krzysztof Zanussi explores the life of a man drowning in a personal and political nightmare. Witold (Tadeusz Bradecki) is young and idealistic. With his affinity for mathematics he tries to understand the world with ready made formulas, which work only on paper. Constantly fighting corruption and bribery in his workplace makes him  unpopular and he is relegated to an industrial job. The only person who he relates to is his mother and when she becomes ill and goes into hospital, he doggedly insists on a private room. A good-natured nurse, Grzyna, takes pity on him but it is too late: Witold’s mother is suffering from incurable cancer. The more Witold applies his logic, the more life points to death as the only “constant factor”. Not surprisingly, Witold is obsessed by his father, who died climbing in the Himalayas. Joining a climbing expedition to Nepal, he half-heartedly complies with the corrupt system – only to be cheated, in an ironic twist and tragedy soon follows.

Zanussi’s Poland is a drab and decaying picture of alienation and Witold’s rebellion is shown by the distance between him and the other protagonists, apart from his mother. Even when embracing Grzyna, the camera finds a little place, where the light falls in, to show Witold’s distance. Sometimes Zanussi’s humour is very provocative: when Witold is in India, he talks to an American business man who talks about upward mobility: “If the Indians work hard, they can go to New York, just like we can come here. You see, everyone has a choice just like you”. Witold replies with a simple “no’ and leaves the man standing. THE CONSTANT FACTOR is a very honest film, realist in it’s bleak and . Witold carries on in his dream like state, his equations leading nowhere. Death, follows, him where ever he goes, without touching him, but isolating him more and more.

THE CONSTANT FACTOR | 9 APRIL AT KINOTEKA 2015

 

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

Director: Janusz Morgenstern

Writer: Janusz Glowacki

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

SCREENING IN THE SCORSESE PRESENTS POLISH MASTERPIECES STRAND AT KINOTEKA 2015

 

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

SCREENING AT PART OF KINOTEKA 2015 | MARTIN SCORSESE SELECTS | POLISH MASTERPIECES

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Ida (2013) | BEST EUROPEAN FILM | European Film Awards | Oscars 2015

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Writer: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik

80mins  Polish Origin: Poland Picture: Black and White Drama 

Seven minutes into Ida, a startlingly beautiful return to Poland for UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski, the character of Wanda Gruz stands against the window of her sparse kitchen, smoking, still in her dressing gown. Across the room sits a young novice, Sister Anna – Wanda’s niece. Wanda flicks ash from her cigarette, the smoke beautifully backlit. Casually, she opens her mouth and drops the bombshell that will shake Anna’s foundations to their core: ‘So you are a Jewish Nun’.

Sister Anna, we learn, is really Ida Lebenstein, a Jewish girl orphaned during the Second World War. Her Mother Superior has sent her into the world to meet her last remaining relative before she takes her vows. In Wanda, she finds a bullish presence, a world-weary judge with a formidable reputation (and immunity). Anna and Wanda may be opposites in so many ways, but their characterisation is deft and multifaceted enough to allow no easy answers. When the women set out on a quest to discover how Anna’s parents died, we glimpse beneath the surface, catching sight of the lasting impressions the estranged relatives will leave upon one another. Wanda believes in life, and encourages Anna to experience it in all its carnal forms – otherwise, she argues, ‘what sort of sacrifice are those vows of yours?’ And besides, she says later after referring to herself as a ‘slut’, ‘Jesus adored people like me’. Perhaps, the implication goes, living ‘life’ does not rule out God’s love? Perhaps there is room for both.

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But such religious angst is not the only dilemma pounding in the heart of Ida. As the women’s quest through 1960s Poland continues, the legacy of war comes under examination. Political currents ripple through Anna’s personal search for her parents, causing questions of national – and international – guilt to rise to the surface. The spectre of death hovers in the air. It seems our past cannot be easily buried: perhaps we are caught in the consequences of the actions of those who came before us?

As a film, Ida too seems to be built upon forbears; the spirits of Bresson, Dreyer and Antonioni are all here, alive and well, not least in the film’s stunning, 1.37:1 black and white images. If those names imply an austere coldness alongside a total mastery of the cinematic medium, then all the better – when it is handled as well as this, such a tone is surely something to commend. Ida is intensely visual, impeccably performed and quietly profound – and, at a compact 80 minutes, it may even be perfect.  ALEX BARRETT

FIPRESCI AWARD WINNER Toronto Film Festival 2013 | WINNER-BEST FILM 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013| Golden Globe Nominee (2015) | European Film Award Winner 2014 |IDA is on DVD BLU-ray from 24 November 2014

 

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.

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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”)

SCREENING AS PART OF THE KIESLOWSKI RETROSPECTIVE IN CELEBRATION OF ITS 25 YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Sarajevo International Film Festival 2014 – WINNERS

Feher_Isten_Kornel_MundruczoSARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL features a dazzling line-up of nine indie films competing for the HEART OF SARAJEVO AWARD of which three are World Premieres. Eastern Europe focuses strongly in the Balkans festival this year with titles from Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Austria and festival director Mirsad Purivatra is working to extend the selection to include cinema from further afield – North Africa, India and the Middle East.

Bela Tarr heads up the International Jury and Gael Garcia Bernal, Danis Tanovic and Agnès B (who styled the Festival this year) will be honoured with awards. WHITE GOD director Kornel Mundruczo will be there with his Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ winner, along with fellow Hungarian director Ádám Csász – LAND OF STORMS. Michel Hazanavicius will also grace the red carpet with his latest film THE SEARCH.

W O R L D   P R E M I E R E S

I AM BESO / ME VAR BESO
Georgia, 2014, Colour, 89 min.
Director and screenplay: Lasha Tskvitinidze
Cast: Tsotne Barbakadze, Soso Tarkashvili

SONG OF MY MOTHER / KLAMA DAYIKA MIN
Turkey, France, Germany, 2014, Colour, 103 min.
Director and screenplay: Erol Mintas
Cast: Feyyaz Duman, Zubeyde Ronahi, Nesrin Cavadzade

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING / TRI DRITARE DHE NJË VARJE
Kosovo*, 2014, Colour, 93 min.
Director: Isa Qosja
Screenplay: Zymber Kelmendi
Cast: Irena Cahani, Luan Jaha, Donat Qosja, Aurita Agushi, Leonora Mehmetaj, Orik Morina, Xhevat Qorraj

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE

CURE – ŽIVOT DRUGE / CURE – THE LIFE OF ANOTHER – (see header for image)
Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2014, Colour, 83 min.
Director: Andrea Štaka
Screenplay: Andrea Štaka, Thomas Imbach, Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Sylvie Marinković, Lucia Radulović, Mirjana Karanović, Marija Škaričić, Leon Lučev, Franjo Dijak

REGIONAL PREMIERES

imageA BLAST
Greece, 2014, Colour, 83 min.
Director: Syllas Tzoumerkas
Screenplay: Syllas Tzoumerkas, Youla Boudali
Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Vassilis Doganis, Maria Filini, Themis Bazaka, Yorgos Biniaris

BRIDES / PATARDZLEBI
Georgia, France, 2014, Colour, 93 min.
Director and screenplay: Tinatin Kajrishvili
Cast: Mari Kitia, George Maskharshvili, Natia Niguriani, Ana Grigolia, Nita Kalichava, Levan Kajrishvili, Erekle Tsintsadze Patardzlebi

THE LAMB / KUZU
Turkey, 2014, Colour, 85 min.
Director and screenplay: Kutluğ Ataman
Cast: Nesrin Cavadzade, Cahit Gök, Mert Taştan, Sıla Lara Cantürk, Nursel Kose

LAND OF STORMS / VIHARSAROK
Hungary, 2013, Colour, 105 min.
Director: Ádám Császi
Screenplay: Iván Szabó, Ádam Császi
Cast: András Sütő, Ádám Varga, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Enikő Börcsök

20143697_5-copy-610x250MACONDO
Austria, 2014, Colour, 93 min.
Director and screenplay: Sudabeh Mortezai
Cast: Ramasan Minkailov, Aslan Elbiev, Kheda Gazieva, Rosa Minkailova, Iman Nasuhanowa, Askhab Umaev, Hamsat Nasuhanov, Champascha Sadulajev

OUT OF COMPETITION

WORLD PREMIERES

EQUALS / JEDNAKI
Serbia, 2014, Colour, 104 min.
Directors: Milos Petričić, Mladen Đorđević, Dejan Karaklajić, Ivica Vidanović, Igor Stoimenov, Darko Lungulov
Screenplay: Milica Piletić

A QUINTET / KVINTET
Germany, USA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2014, Colour, 74 min.
Režija/Directo: Sanela Salketić, Ariel Shaban, Roberto Cuzzillo, Elie Lamah, Mauro Mueller

GALA SCREENINGS

sarajBRIDGES OF SARAJEVO / MOSTOVI SARAJEVA
Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, 2014, Colour, 114 min.
Directors: Aida Begić, Leonardo di Costanzo, Jean-Luc Godard, Kamen Kalev, Isild Le Besco, Sergey Loznitsa, Vincenzo Marra, Ursula Meier, Vladimir Perišić, Cristi Puiu, Marc Recha, Angela Schanelec, Teresa Villaverde
Artistic director: Jean-Michel Frodon
Animated Sequences: François Schuiten i Luis da Matta Almeida

WHITE GOD / FEHÉR ISTEN
Hungary, Germany, Sweden, 2014, Colour, 119 min.
Director: Kornel Mundruczó
Screenplay: Kata Wéber, Kornel Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi
Cast: Zsófia Psotta, Luke and Body, Sándor Zsótér, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Lili Monori, Lászlo Gálffi, Lili Horváth

THE SARAJEVO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 15 – 23 AUGUST 2014 and the WINNERS are:

HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST FILM
SONG OF MY MOTHER / KLAMA DAYIKA MIN
Director: Erol Mintaş

A simple and courageous indie drama with beautifully crafted performances and a special award for Fayyez Duman as BEST ACTOR.

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

BRIDES/ PATARDZLEBI
Director: Tinatin Kajrishvili (Georgia, France)

Hope, despair and perseverance is portrayed with great poignancy in this prison drama – Mari Kitia won BEST ACTRESS for her role.

HEART OF SARAJEVO FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
NAKED ISLAND / GOLI
Director: Tiha K. Gudac (Croatia)
Financial award, in the amount of 3,000 €, is provided by The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

SPECIAL JURY MENTION
HAPPILY EVER AFTER / LJUBAVNA ODISEJA
Director: Tatjana Božić (Netherlands, Croatia)

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
JUDGEMENT IN HUNGARY / PRESUDA U MAĐARSKOJ
Director: Eszter Hajdu (Mađarska, Njemačka, Portugal)

Thule Tuvalu (2014) – Locarno International Film Festival 2014

Director/Writer: Matthias von Gunten

Cast: Foini Tulafono, Kaipati Vevea, Vevea Tepou, Lars Jeremiassen, Tukaou Malaki,

Switzerland Documentary 96mins

THULE TUVALU, Matthias von Gunten’s beautifully shot documentary about global warming and two regions united by a gloomily common destiny despite being 20,000km apart, isn’t the aggressive polemic you might have hoped for—but is, perhaps, all the better for it. Because while this could in fact be a significantly angrier piece about the consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels, the inevitably anxious summarising text with which the film is bound to end would be just as speculative and, apparently, helpless. This Swiss-funded film screened this week as part of the 67th Locarno Film Festival’s Panorama Suisse section.

What THULE TUVALU does do well is give a sense of what it might be like to live in either of its two eponymous places. Dividing his time equally between the inhabitants of Thule, Greenland, and those of Tuvalu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, von Gunten accumulates two absorbing pictures of daily life, highlighting cultural similarities between the people residing in these appreciably contrasting paradises. In a strong opening, Thule resident Lars, 65, shoots a seal from afar—and many other early scenes unfussily depict hunting as a way of life. For Thule and Tuvalu inhabitants alike, animals function merely as transport, food and clothing.

Tuvalu’s temperatures facilitate more intimate means of catching food: Patrick, 42, casts a fishing net as he runs into the sea. On Namunea, the outermost island from Funafuti on Tuvalu’s mainland, we first meet 71-year-old Vevea—who incidentally has six wives and 21 children—as he cuts a pig’s throat. It’s through one of Vevea’s 21 children, 42-year-old Kaipati, that we first hear the C-words: as we learn, climate change is affecting life on Tuvalu in both short- and long-term ways, in the form of droughts and dying vegetation on the one hand and the likelihood that it could be the first country to be entirely submerged by the sea on the other. In a 2009 conference in Copenhagen, we’re told, the UN proposed to limit global warming to two degrees—a tokenistic proposition with which Tuvalu was pressured by industrialised nations into agreeing despite it more or less securing the island’s “certain demise”.

In Thule, meanwhile, the ice is melting and the winters are shortening, meaning its inhabitants are less and less able to hunt for the required amount of time each year to sustain themselves. Tuvalu’s yellowing trees are matched on Thule by an ominously unprecedented rift across a plain of ice. Such warning signs of a possibly irrevocable situation are resulting, understandably, in a great deal of uncertainty for the natives. Briefly, von Gunten travels to New Zealand to catch up with Tuvalu-born Foini, who jumped ship, so to speak, before it was too late. Not everyone can afford this option, of course—presuming they would also emigrate if able to—while others are displaced against their will. Back home, Takuaou makes a dress out of videotape for her daughter’s school performance to celebrate the region’s Day of Friendship; the ceremony took place, we’re told, on the same day a smaller island announced plans for the wholesale resettlement of its population.

For a documentary whose overriding message forbids humour, by the very virtue of spending time with these people, THULE TUVALU has many amusing and/or uplifting moments going for it. The abovementioned Day of Friendship performance is a particular highlight, while the several scenes on Thule featuring dogs are funny almost by default—as when one falls into some water, or when a puppy is distracted from the slab of raw meat with which it would much rather be left alone.

Assisted by Pierre Mennel’s often gorgeous cinematography, such scenes capture the vivid mix of Thule’s dark grey and deep pink skies as well as the serene qualities of overall life there. In a near-transcendent moment, however, the scene that unexpectedly steals the show here is that in which a narwhale is killed with several sniper shots, which dramatically punctuate the surreally quiet air—a profoundly sad encounter that touches on the sublime. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-16 AUGUST 2014

Il Cinema Ritrovato – Bologna 28 June-5 July 2014

IL CINEMA RITROVATO or literally, Cinema Rediscovered, is now in it’s 28th year and, judging by the increased attendance this year, continues to grow in popularity. The Bologna festival takes place each year at the end of June for 8 days with screenings showing across four main screens in the city, all within easy walking distance, and the famous late night free open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore.

Ureshii goro_01Each year film scholars, academics and everyday cinemagoers descend upon medieval town in Emilia Romagna for specialised film screenings ranging this year from a William Wellman mini-retrospective, James Dean, The Golden 50’s – India’s Endangered Classics, Riccardo Freda, Werner Hochbaum, Italian episode films, Polish New Wave in cinemascope and Hitler war films to name but just a few of the strands. The regular strands that continued this year included new restorations of cinema classics, cinema from 100 years ago along with this year’s Japanese section which focused on early talkies from the Shochiku studio.

At any given time you could bump into on the streets, or at a screening, the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, Scott Foundas, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson or even US director, Alexander Payne who is back for his second successive year.

renoir_la_chienne_03Director Costa Gavras was in attendance this year. Since 2007 he has also been president of the Cinémathèque Française. He was interviewed by the festival’s creative director, Peter von Bagh, and spoke about his early life in Greece and then working as an assistant director with the likes of René Clair (TOUT L’OR DU MONDE 1961), Jacques Demy (LA BAIE DES ANGES 1963) and René Clément (LE JOUR ET L’HEURE 1963 & LES FELINS 1964) before embarking on his own first film COMPARTIMENT TUERS (1965). He also discussed the political outcry around the release of his most celebrated movie Z (1969).

There was an opportunity to see some more recent restorations that had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. These included DRAGON INN (1967). LES CROIX DE BOIS (1931), LA PAURA (1954), COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES (1968) and LA CHIENNE (1931).

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There were two real highlights from these films and the first was Renoir’s film LA CHIENNE aka THE BITCH. Michel Simon plays the hapless Maurice Legrand, unhappy in his marriage to the nagging Adele and one night meets the beautiful Lulu who has just been beaten by her pimp boyfriend, Dédé. He walks her home to take care of her. Legrand falls in love with Lulu only to be the victim of her and her boyfriend’s plot to extract as much cash as possible from him. Simon is in superb form, as is Janie Marèse as the bitch of the story, Lulu. The film was later remade in 1945 by Fritz Lang as SCARLET STREET. The print screened at the festival was restored by the Cinémathèque française.

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The other film highlight from this strand was the L’Immagine Ritrovata Bologna restoration of Raymond Bernard’s 1931 film LES CROIX DE BOIS aka WOODEN CROSSES. Bernard’s remarkable and inventive use of both handheld and tracking shots to film recreated battle sequences in the trenches and on the battlefields of World War 1 are simply astonishing. There’s one particular battle scene that takes place in a cemetery that shall stay long in the memory as an incredible achievement of choreography in cinema.

The Polish New Wave in CinemaScope strand at this year’s festival was particularly impressive, following on from last year’s Czech New Wave strand entitled L’emulsione conta: Orwo e Nová vlna (1963-1968). Delights such as THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM (1964), SAMSON (1961), THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1964), FARAON (1965) and PASSENGER (1963) were on show. It would be hard to pick a favourite from this impressive selection as seeing  and Wajda’s SAMSON turned out to be a real discovery.

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Munk died tragically in a car accident on his way home from the Auschwitz concentration camp where he had been shooting PASSENGER, so the film was left incomplete and was finished posthumously by the use of stills and narration, two years later.  Seeing it projected on the big screen was a gruelling yet rewarding experience.

One of the more interesting strands, and an ingenious programming idea, were the Italian episode films. The strand was entitled L’Italia in corto. Prima parte (1952-1968) and featured two single episodes from different compendium films made during this period. Several of these were a lot of fun and worked surprisingly well when put together as a double bill. The best two were an episode entitled Il Professore by Marco Ferreri from the 1964 film CONTROSESSO paired with Renzo e Luciana by Mario Monicelli from the 1962 film BOCCACCIO ’70. The restoration of the latter film looked beautiful with its strong rich, vibrant colours literally glowing on the screen.

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William A Wellman was being celebrated at this year’s festival whereas in previous years we have seen the likes of Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh and John Ford. I saw just three of Wellman’s films at the festival; NIGHT NURSE (1931) with a very early performance from Clark Gable as a suited and booted psycho-chauffeur, YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), a dark, disturbing western about a posse who end up lynching three innocent people. Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews starred.

BA remaining highlight of the festival, was Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film THE MAN I KILLED aka BROKEN LULLABY. Whilst the acting would never win any awards, the film itself was very affecting indeed. It tells the story of a French soldier who kills a German solider in the trenches of World War 1. After the war he becomes wracked with guilt and sets off to Germany to beg forgiveness from the dead German’s parents and fiancé. The screening I attended was packed, with people standing around the sides and seated on the floor of the cinema. When the film was over it received a very deserved rousing applause from the audience. There’s something comforting when a fairly obscure 1932 film can still cause this sort of a reaction and this is really what IL CINEMA RITROVATO is all about; re-discovering those forgotten gems of cinema. NEIL MCGLONE

 

brownlow_It_Happened_ Here_ 02Neil McGlone is agent/representative for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s creative director, Peter von Bagh and has been involved with both this festival and Midnight Sun Film Festival for the past five years.  He is also programme advisor for London’s Nordic Film Festival.  Neil recently worked as film advisor and researcher for Mark Cousins’ A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM (2013) and Peter von Bagh’s SOCIALISM (2014). He is currently in pre-production with Alexander Payne on a documentary about British film historian, Kevin Brownlow (IT HAPPENED HERE).

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

 

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.

FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH DECEMBER 2013 NATIONWIDE

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Aftermath (2012) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s holocaust-themed outing is inspired by Jan Gross’ book ‘Neighbours’ about the massacre during the Second World War of a Polish village’s Jewish inhabitants.  This Polish ‘secret history’ is filmed in a contemporary timeframe  (2000) and has the advantage of legendary cinematographer Pawel Edelman’s sumptuous visual treatment and an atmospheric and aptly-composed score by Jan Duszynski to keep the spooky storyline on a knife’s edge, thrumming with unexplained events and hostile characters.  That said, it sometimes feels like Pasikowski has bitten off more than he can chew with this tale of two brothers, Franciszek and Jozef Kalina, who come face to face with rampant anti-semitism when they discover old Jewish gravestones put to use as road-pavings in their childhood village.  The drama caused an uproar in Poland on its release due to its controversial storyline. And this is certainly one of the most important recent films concerning Jewish Polish history.

We first meet Franciszek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) returning to the family farm after 20 years working in Chicago.  His homecoming is spoilt when he finds the mood in the parochial village is distinctly unfriendly.  The locals are still angry about him leaving of nearest and dearest in the lurch. But his brother Jozef (Stuhr), makes no effort to explain or make amends.  As the brothers set to work removing the Jewish tombstones and replacing them in their own field, the villagers rise up in scenes of outrage and hostility, threatening to beat them, even savagely killing their pet dog. When the pair start to dig deeper into local history archives, they discover that there is more to this grave desecration than first meets the eye.

With Pawel Pawlikowski’s recent drama IDA winning Best Film at the London Film Festival 2013; interest in the holocaust shows no sign of abating and Pasikowski has chosen another good story for this screen adaptation. The problem is that Franciszek and Josef are fairly unappealing, one-dimensional characters and the brothers are difficult to engage with, despite their heroic campaign.  This coupled with a total absence of any meaningful females leads (how can a village have no prominent women in Poland) apart from am occasional appearance of the local doctor and a brief vignette from a hospitalised old Jewish lady,  makes this a very dry, male-orientated story. As such, it feels rather worthy and preachy rather than involving as an emotive drama; the only sympathy and contrast coming from the Catholic priest (Jerzy Radziwilowicz). As the action builds to an hysterical climax, there is also a shift in tone from straight drama to histrionic melodrama as almost implausible skeletons gradually tumble out a cupboard heaving with anti-semitic overtones.  MT

AFTERMATH SCREENS AT THE TRICYLE ON 13TH NOVEMBER 2013 AS PART OF THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2013

 

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