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Polish cinema has great traditions and has endured serious hardships. After the Second World War, Polish cinema achieved its heights thanks to the work of several great directors who worked in state sponsored film groups (Andrzej Wajda, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Andrzej Żuławski and Krzysztof Kieślowski among oth- ers). After 1989 and the collapse of state socialism, Polish cinema had to adjust to a new situation and yesterday’s successes were not enough to secure a smooth transition to the new, market based order. During those years, several new filmmakers emerged and they often struggled to find the new ways of successful commercial communication with audiences, both artistically and sound. During the 2010s, the new forms of film funding were put to work and, slowly, new space that enabled certain older and young filmmakers to offer more daring visions emerged.
Section Poland Magnified documents the last three years of Polish cinematography. It gathers both titles oriented toward international audiences and more idio- matic projects that were popular domestically. The first category is repre- sented by Via Carpatia—a low-key, realistic drama about a couple that sets on a journey frequented by refugees to find a trace of their relative trapped somewhere on the fenced borders of Europe. An exemplary movie of the sec- ond type is an instant cult classic 7 Emotions by the veteran of grotesque and at the same time lyric portrayal of the everyday, Marek Koterski. In his newest movie, the most renowned and popular Polish actors are cast as children in a hilarious and bitter tale of the traumas of growing up. One of the most important movements of the recent Polish film production is historical drama, represented in the section by two titles. Pardon by Jan Jakub Kolski conveys the complexity of Polish contemporary history in the moving tale of a couple struggling to provide a proper burial for their child—a young partisan killed right after the war by communist forces. A different view of the war, but also from the perspective of the victims of history, is provided by a younger filmmaker, Adrian Panek, in his second feature called Werewolf. The story of children—concentration camp survivors—trapped by SS-trained dogs in a remote castle has the characteristics of parable and classic thriller.
This last picture also marks the new boldness, with which Polish filmmakers take on genres and themes less established in the history of art-house Polish cinema. The Mute by Bartosz Konopka presents a story of a medieval bishop on a mission to Christianize one of the last “pagan” tribes of the Baltic Sea coast. It’s highly ambivalent in its portrayal of religion as both a great transform- ing force and a tool in the hands of the powerful. The stylized, frenetic form of the last title shows similarities to the most known “extremist” of Polish cinema, Andrzej Żuławski, and his partly forgotten sci-fi classic On the Silver Globe.
The spirit of late Andrzej Żuławski is strongly present also in another film of the section, Bird Talk, based on his script and directed by his son, Xawery. Bird Talk is as energetic as the best films of Żuławski the father, with dialogues and tempo clearly in the style of the director of Mad Love. Xawery added a lighter touch with his music-video inspired direction to a rather apocalyptic portrayal of the contemporary Polish reality from the father‘s script. The motives of loss are strongly present also in A Cat With a Dog by Janusz Kondratiuk—a per- sonal story of the director’s and his wife’s struggle with the terminal illness of his brother, Andrzej Kondratiuk. Both veterans of cinema—well-known to Polish au- diences—but of radically different temper, they have been keeping distance from each other throughout their adult lives. When Andrzej’s life gets closer to its end,
Janusz has to forget about their past differences. Kondratiuk’s movie is program- matically “modest” in terms of form and narrative but achieves the rarely seen levels of emotional sincerity.
Finally, Kill It and Leave This Town, the only animation in the selection, is a case of a radical vision alien to any artistic compromise. Fourteen years in the mak- ing, the feature by Mariusz Wilczyński is set in the imaginary space of his memory and past experiences. The film moves between the personal fantasy and the grim portrayal of reality and is populated by tender, fragile and obsessive characters, including Wilczyński who is no less important than the others. The selection is sealed with a classic documentary, Wind – A Documentary Thriller. The film is set in the mountain region of Poland and tells the story of three characters, all of them struggling with the phenomenon of strong wind (called „halny”) that causes not only material but also psychological strain in the highland communities. The film is exceptional in its humanist tone and the way it portrays everyday people as larger-than-life characters who are able to struggle face to face with the forces of nature.
Every set of a few titles that would attempt to portray as varied cinematography as the Polish one will be inevitably subjective. This selection is also the case—it was made deliberately, away from the simple criteria of cinematographic success, such as box office and festival awards. The films selected for the Cinematik section Poland Magnified are characterized by a daring artistic vision and are far from mediocre commercial production. As a set, they show various strategies of vibrant new European cinema that dares to free itself from the formulas of Hollywood film- making as well as from the grandeur of the auteur cinema of the past.
Krzysztof Świrek