20 Essential Films For An Introduction To Polish Cinema
With the Polish cinema, one associates a wide variety of different genres, creative styles and technical innovations. This artistic creation can be described accordingly by the big three P’s: Politically, Poetic, Polarizing.
This list includes the names of significant representatives of the cinematic craft such as Krzysztof Kieslowski, Roman Polanski and Jerzy Kawalerowicz. They have succeeded to create witty, timeless pieces, which have enjoyed great international success, but have never lost the controversial reference to historical actuality.
Even after miserable times of the Second World War and strict censorship in torn Poland during the Communist occupation, this film culture has not lost its penchant for irony.
20. Mother Joan of the Angels – Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1961)
“Mother Joan of the Angels” is a drama film from 1961 that deals with the demonic possession of God’s servants in a Polish monastery sometime in the seventeenth century. The priest, Father Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit), comes to a small guest house in order to find something for the night. He’s been sent to investigate a case of obsession in the nearby monastery.
The former pastor there was burned at the stake because he was guilty of accepting the sexual temptations made by a nun. The next day he goes to the monastery, where he meets his abbess, Mother Joan (Lucyna Winnicka), who claims to be the most obsessed. Father Suryn embarks on a hell on earth to save Joan from the evil darkness.
Filmed by director Jerzy Kawalerowicz, the film is based on a novel with the same title by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. Indisputably, this is an incredible visual work that applies painting-like total settings. A successful example is the legendary scene where all nuns dressed in white robe take on the church floor and pray together in a cross formation.
By using a very high depth of field, the sparse gray space obtains a grotesque appearance. In addition, there is a background noise refined in perfection that varies in the form of lamenting prayer arias or demonic hell sounds.
19. The Illumination – Krzysztof Zanussi (1972)
The protagonist is Francis Retman (Stanisław Latallo), a young intellectual who initially surrenders himself to the study of physics. Due to some family difficulties, he interrupts his studies and tries to keep his head above water by taking different jobs in various places. Francis looks for answers to existential questions: What is time? Can a man really affect his life? Is there a soul?
In the movie many original recordings of renowned scientists, astronomers and philosophers are integrated, e.g. Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, Felix Kaczanowski, George Prokopiuk, Andrew Trzebski, George Vetulani, Vladimir Zonn. Often the main story seems bothered by the interruptions in its dramaturgy. Nonetheless, Zanussi’s work represents a revolutionary record on experimental film editing and narrative style.
18. A Short Film About Love – Krzysztof Kieślowski (1988)
The film is about the young, nineteen year old postal worker Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko), who falls in love with the older, attractive, however, somewhat promiscuous neighbor Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska), who lives in the opposite house. Every night he watches her through a telescope in her daily tasks, such as those working on her art works or at her nightly sex adventures.
When the two meet in the post office personally, Tomek confesses his love for her. Amused by his statement, she tells him that she has given up the belief in love. Magda holds love for nothing more than sex. Offended by her rejection, he attempts a suicide in which he cuts open his wrists.
As Tomek has to stay in the hospital for a long time, Magda is tormented by a guilty conscience. Tomek’s obsession is carried over to Magda, so she begins to watch his window every night, waiting for his return. When she comes to his apartment, his godmother opens the door and grants her access to his telescope. When she looks through, she sees herself in tears in an earlier scene in her own apartment.
A Short Film About Love explores the duality of love. On one hand, it is all the dark obsession of Tomek that is beyond any respect for Magda’s privacy. On the other hand, a very naive purity of love is present, which defies any physical perversion. When you look at the film you may find many parallels to Hitchcock’s “Rare Window”. The plot pace is slow and suggests a quiet, very intimate tones.
17. Blind Chance – Krzysztof Kieślowski (1987)
The focus of the action is of high political relevance and deals with the conflict between the party and the underground opposition of then-communist Poland. The protagonist Witek Dlugosz (Bogusław Linda) re-experienced three versions of his life path, giving the audience an understanding how far can the coincidence impact human destiny. .
Witek was born in June 1956 in Poznan, when his father participates just the workers’ uprising. Both move to Łódź, where Witek goes to school and begins to study medicine. When his father dies, his last words “you don’t have to do anything.” Witek takes a sabbatical and decides to go to Warsaw. He goes to the train station. From now on, three different versions are played, depending on whether he reaches the train or not.
In the first version he reaches the train and begins a career as a communist functionary and politiciansin Warsaw. In the second version, he runs into a train policemen, and he begins a career as an oppositionist. In the third version, he misses the train, but meets a fellow student, with whom he falls in love and marries her. His private life becomes a major priority and is far from politics. Witek has to fly to Libya for a business trip, but for personal reasons, he opts for a different flight than originally planned. The plane explodes when it departs.
A great difficulty occurred on the occasion of the release of the film shot in 1981. Due to the state of war in Poland and the turmoil of the Solidarność-movement, the film was a victim of censorship and could be shown to the audience only in 1987. A broadcast abroad was also not approved.
16. The Decalogue – Krzysztof Kieslowski (1988)
The Decalogue is a Polish television drama series by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his long-time co-author Krzysztof Piesiewicz filmed between 1988 and 1989. Comprising a total of nearly 1000 hours of film, it is one of the most elaborate Polish television productions of the 80s. The ten-part series was inspired by the Ten Commandments of the Bible. Each short film explores one or more moral or ethical issues that arise in an increasingly modernized Poland.
The series is Kieslowski’s most prestigious and referring to the short shooting period also the most sophisticated work of his career. In addition, the films were also made available for the cinema audience.
Although each film can be also seen in an independent context, most of them have a common main focal point. It is always a great residential project in Warsaw. In addition, some of the characters are familiar with each other. Among the cast are very well-known Polish actor with whom Kieslowski had several more collaborations. A clear sign of recognition for Kieslowski, the prevailing melancholic and ironic undertone.
The original concept of the film series was to involve ten different directors in the project. However, it was decided that Kieslowski directs the whole series, whereas it was agreed on different camera men, beside the exception in episodes III and IX. Here Piotr Sobociński was a director of photography behind the camera.
15. The Constant Factor – Krzysztof Zanussi (1980)
The protagonist Witold (Tadeusz Brad Niemiecki), who was raised by his mother since the age of 12, after his time at the School of Electronics and his military service, takes a job in an office for exhibition management. He also has great interest in mountaineering and mathematics. As far as human relations, he often gets in a moral dilemma, since he seldom enters into harmony with the surrounding reality due to his honesty and truthfulness.
For example, he is on a business trip in India and has himself intoxicated by the many influences. He meets a group of Americans there and gets into a philosophical discussion that it is a fact that man is not master of his decisions, and through the example of India, many people are still subject to existential needs. Again and again, he encounters smaller fraud and bribery by his colleagues or superiors. Even after the death of his mother, his only family member, Witold remains faithful to his constant system of values.
The title “Constant Factor” refers to the mathematical explanation of a constant Constance, which is even stated in the film during a mathematics lesson. Witold is in the figurative senses just this Konstanze that unmoved pursues his ideals at all temptations in his life. Director and screenwriter Krzysztof Zanussi. wrote a very personal psychological portrait that included many existential questions that took up his own life.