Provocative Millennial Dreamers of Polish Cinema
While after the year 2000 the cinema industries of such countries as Romania or Greece started concentrating on the portrayal of specific topics and adapting unique senses of aesthetics, in Poland a new strand of cinema emerged and proved its diversity.
After the fall of communism in Poland, the tightly controlled population slowly started emerging from its constraints and filmmakers celebrated the end of censorship. Political transformation strongly influenced the shape of the new cinematic ecosystem. Generous ministerial grants were replaced with financing from film institutes and reduced support from the government budget placed Poland at the far end of Europe's list.
The quality of the films that were produced went from an overwhelming majority of censored propaganda material, to cheap reproductions of Hollywood action films. Several of the old masters of cinema found it hard to adapt to the new reality. When Jerzy Kawalerowicz, director of films such as "Matka Joanna od Aniołów" / "Mother Joan of the Angles" and "Faraon" / "Pharaoh", stood in front of the camera for the first time in years to fulfill his dream of adapting Henryk Sienkiewicz's famous novel "Quo Vadis", he understood the producers rejections of his project as a personal attack on him, not an economic necessity.
Due to insufficient means of financing, the cinematic language of films created at that period seemed archaic and scathing. Although they became popular, Jerzy Hoffman's 1999 "Ogniem i Mieczem" / "With Fire and Sword" or Andrzej Wajda's "Pan Tadeusz" are not the directors' biggest achievements. This also goes for Krzysztof Zanussi, the leading creator of the "cinema of moral anxiety", who in the new Poland only once approached the level of "Illuminacja" / "Illumination” (1972) and "Struktura kryształu" / "The Structure of Crystal" (1969), with his film "Życie jako śmiertelna choroba przenoszona drogą płciową" / "Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" (2000).
The setting up of the Polish Film Institute in 2002, which finances the production of films, supports young filmmakers and promotes Polish cinema abroad, marked the new beginning of Polish cinema.
One of the creators who earned himself an important place among the filmmakers of new Polish cinema is Wojciech Smarzowski. In "The Wedding" (2004) he took up the crucial 1901 play by Stanisław Wyspiański and updated its critical, sarcastic exposure of 19th-century Polish society. He drew a caricature of Polish society and all its national sins. His next films provided further evidence for his position as one of the most severe societal commentators after the political transformation. In "Dom zły" / "The Dark House" (2009) he showed degraded people who drink and do evil, and simultaneously he bitingly commented on the myth of Solidarity - one of the founding legends of the new Poland. In the award-winning "Róża" / "Rose" (2011) he took up the difficult topic of war and its consequences. Another example of a critical perspective on Polish reality is presented in the film "Drogówka" / "Traffic Department" (2013). The conspiracy thriller is about a policeman conned into a murder.
An entirely different manner of perceiving the world is offered by Andrzej Jakimowski. He is a mature outsider. He doesn't try to show off, he doesn't pretend to be a rebel - but he consistently builds his own cinematic world and invites the viewer to an intimate conversation. Jakimowski's cinema is composed of memories, small human dramas, intuition and feelings. His feature debut, "Zmruż oczy" / "Squint Your Eyes" (2003), was shot for his daughter, in order to bring her closer to understanding the concept of time. His newest film, "Imagine" (2012), is dedicated to his wife to remind her and himself that closeness to the other person consists in discovering and making a common understanding of the world. In the meantime, alluding to the tradition of magical realism, he filmed "Sztuczki" / "Tricks" (2007).
One cannot conceive of Polish cinema without mentioning two directors from the older generation: Jan Jakub Kolski and Marek Koterski. Kolski, who creates magical worlds that seem far from reality, leaves his fingerprints on every one of his films. Whether it's an adaptation from Gombrowicz ("Pornografia" / "Pornography", 2003), a re-telling of fairy-tale stories ("Jańcio Wodnik" / "Johnnie Aquarius", 1993; "Historia kina w Popielawach" / "The Story of Cinema in Popielawy", 1998) or shooting a wartime psychological drama ("Daleko od okna" / "Far From the Window", 2000), the timbre of his voice and his directorial diction remain the same throughout.
Artistic expressiveness is also Marek Koterski's trademark. His autobiographical cinema is a sort of psychotherapy. "Nic śmiesznego" / "Nothing Funny" (1995), "Dom wariatów" / "The House of Fools" (1984), "Dzień świra" / "Day of the Wacko" (2002), "Wszyscy jesteśmy Chrystusami" / "We're All Christs" (2006) are the films that made him into one of the most respected Polish directors. The honesty with which Koterski speaks about his own complexes, his weaknesses, misogyny, romanticism, naivety, arrogance and pettiness touches the most painful scars in every person.
One cannot conceive of Polish cinema of the last dozen or so of years without mentioning Krzysztof Krauze. His film "Dług" / "Debt" from 1999 was one of the best films of the decade - a shattering story of people in shatters who must make dramatic choices. "Mój Nikifor" / "My Nikifor", filmed five years later, was an intimate story about the well-known Polish folk artist and a reflection about what it means to be an artist. Krauze is the director of one of the strongest, most real works in the past decade of Polish cinema – "Plac Zbawiciela" / "Saviour Square", in which a family psychodrama spurs a story about people disappointed by the system.
Krauze's cinema cannot be classified, but he is an expressive artist and a creator whose films are always much awaited by cinema enthusiasts. His biographical film about the Polish-Romany poet and singer Bronisława Wajs-Papusza, "Papusza", arrived in cinemas in 2013.
In the 21st century, the voice of female directors becomes more clearly heard. Agnieszka Holland had marked her presence on the world cinematic scene several decades ago. Her film "Gorączka, dzieje jednego pocisku" / "Fever, the Story of One Bullet" was nominated for a Berlin Film festival Golden Bear in 1981, and seven years later "Europa, Europa" received an Oscar nomination. She worked in the U.S. for several years, creating feature films ("Trzeci cud" / "The Third Miracle") and working on TV series including "The Wire". Her greatest success in recent years is the Oscar nominee "W ciemności" / "In Darkness" from 2012, the story of a Lviv sewer worker who saves Jews during the Second World War.
Dorota Kędzierzawska is another of the outstanding directors in European cinema. Her discreet, inconspicuous films talk about lonely people who search for feelings and closeness, with Kędzierzawska drawing moving psychological portraits of the characters, with a focus on children. In "Wrony" / "Crows" (1994), "Nic" / "Nothing" (1998) and
"Jutro będzie lepiej" / "Tomorrow Will Be Better" (2010), she returns to the topic of childhood.
Małgorzta Szumowska is also one of the most interesting female directors. In 2004 she brought her mother's story about motherhood, pre-natal fear of birth and roles prescribed by society to the screen – "Ono" / "Stranger". Her made her breakthrough with "33 sceny z życia" / "33 Scenes from Life" (2008). The autobiographical story, about a young artist struggling with the death of both parents, is Szumowska's intimate portrait, one made without anaesthesia, raw and sincere. The film is also the filmmakers first cinematic provocation. In "Sponsoring" / "Elles" (2011) and "W imię…" / "In the Name of..." (2013), she touches such social taboos as student prostitution and the erotic life of clergymen.
Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by MJ 31.05.2013