Poland has a long tradition of film-making. Whilst not having a huge output, some of the films from this country are highly acclaimed, and many have won awards. On this list of recommendations, I have taken the liberty of including two films from the same short series, as I could not choose between them. I have deliberately left out the famous ‘Three Colours Trilogy’, as it is so well known, and also omitted anything by Roman Polanski, for the same reason. I will be doing another post on cinema from Eastern Europe, but felt that Poland had enough to offer on its own. Besides, I sort of owed it to Eddy Winko…
Europa Europa. Strictly speaking, this is a French/German/Polish co-production, but don’t be misled. It is in every sense a Polish film, about the experience of Polish-born Jews during the Second World war, and directed by a famous woman director from Poland, Agnieszka Holland. It was released in 1990, and won the Golden Globe for best foreign film. Based on a true story, this almost unbelievable tale centres on the exploits of a Jewish boy, trying to escape the Nazis. Separated from his family, he pretends to be a German orphan, and is taken into the Hitler Youth, hailed as a fine example of Aryan manhood. The rest of the film concerns his constant struggle to avoid detection, until his eventual salvation, at the hands of the Red Army. This is a warm and often humourous tale, despite the events and circumstances surrounding it. A good script, and an excellent cast, make for a rewarding film experience. Here is a trailer.
Blind Chance. This film supplies us with three alternative endings to the same basic story. A man is catching a train, but how do the different events that precede and follow this everyday occurrence affect the three possible outcomes? In 1981, this was a fairly unusual plot device, and it is well handled here, by the eminent Polish film-maker, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who also wrote the story. I will not go into the details of each scenario, though they deal with the anti-communist underground movement of the time, and other religious, and political issues. An intriguing film, from one of Poland’s finest directors. Here is a short montage of clips.
Kanal. This is the second film in the famous Andrzej Wajda War Trilogy, and for my money, the most accessible of the three. Set during the uprising in Warsaw in 1944, this 1956 film feels completely authentic. As the German troops close in on the Polish fighters, they retreat into the city’s sewer system (the canals of the title), to escape the fighting, and traverse the city underground. The setting adds claustrophobia and tension, and the stress on the survivors is apparent. The first part of the film introduces the various characters, and we see their foibles, and their loves and desires, before following them into the hellish fight that follows. If you enjoy this, you may well want to watch it again, in context with the other two films that form the trilogy. Happily, each one stands on its own merit, and they are not a serial, that has to be followed in order. Here is the first segment, with English subtitles. The whole film is available this way.
A Short film about Love. The prolific film-maker Kieslowski again, director and writer of this, and the next film that I have chosen. Starting in 1988, he made a series of short films, each one a modern take on one of the Ten Commandments, and they were collectively called ‘Dekalog’. He later expanded two of the stories, though still only allowing a short running time, in this case, less than 90 minutes. Here, we have a film about obsessive desire, as a young man spies on his attractive neighbour (the wonderful Grazyna Szapolowska) as she comes and goes, and meets lovers in her apartment. Without adding a spoiler, the two eventually meet, and events unfold that turn everything around. A small film perhaps, but a small masterpiece. Here is a good clip, no words necessary.
A Short film about Killing. I make no apologies for including this second story from ‘Dekalog’, as it is just too good to leave out. Made in the same year, this film raised questions about Capital Punishment, and the social background to random acts of extreme violence. After a seemingly senseless, and brutal murder, a newly-qualified barrister is trying to defend the killer, but is hopelessly caught up in the justice system, and in the pointlessness of the act. The young perpetrator is found guilty, and executed by hanging, mirroring his strangling of the victim of his crime, before he finished him off with a rock. This is a bleak film, in every way; although filmed in colour, the grey tones and overall feel give it a monochrome look. Poland, at the end of the Communist era, is equally bleakly portrayed, and the film ends without hope for anything. Both the murder, and later execution, are shown in graphic detail, so be warned. This film is rightly considered to be an important work in the history of European Cinema, and despite being uncomfortable to watch, should be seen by everyone. This is the official trailer.
These five recommendations are all easily available, and not too demanding to explore. They have different ideas, in different settings, though two of them do deal with events during World War Two. Given the recent troubled history of Poland, it is not unexpected to see so much work devoted to this subject. I hope you manage to see some, or all of them. I expect Mr.Winko has already seen them all, if only to improve his command of Polish.