Tadeusz Konwicki – Ostatni dzien lata AKA The Last Day of Summer (1958)

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There is something vaguely mythical to the manner in which Konwicki introduces his characters, both to us and to each other, lapped as much by the ethereal eeriness of the score as by the seaside winds that send their hair aflutter. When they tend to speak to each other in whispers, it seems almost out of respect for the otherworldly aura of their locale, as though it is to their eyes as improbably beautiful as Konwicki’s camera renders it to us. They—referred to in the credits only as “He” and “She”, mysterious and mythical in themselves—do not whisper much; there’s a clear silent heritage at work here, conferring meaning to the motion of faces and the movement of the camera along this spectral shore. Continue reading

Krzysztof Kieslowski – Dekalog AKA The Decalogue (1989)

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The Ten Commandments, exact and uncompromising, literally cast in stone, continues to provide a source of moral conflict in contemporary society. In the ten part epic masterpiece, Decalogue, Krzysztof Kieslowski examines the dilemma of fundamental sin in the lives of ordinary Warsaw citizens. A scientist (Henryk Baranowski) puts his faith in science and logic to govern daily life (Decalogue I). A violinist (Krystyna Janda), unable to decide between her husband and her lover, defers the impossible decision to her husband’s attending physician (Aleksander Bardini) (Decalogue II). A lonely woman (Maria Pakulnis) imposes on an ex-lover (Daniel Olbrychski) on Christmas Eve to search for her missing lover (Decalogue III). An acting student (Adrianna Biedrzynska) discovers an ominous letter from her father (Janusz Gajos) (Decalogue IV). Continue reading

Andrzej Zulawski – Na srebrnym globie AKA On the Silver Globe (1987)

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Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski is best known for his anguished monster flick Possession, which featured Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani as a married couple spiraling toward domestic meltdown. His films are aggressive shrieks of madness, doomed love, trance-state convulsions, and shrieking emotional upheavals. The octopus creature that materializes halfway through Possession, completing the film’s bizarre love triangle, transports a fairly naturalistic, if explosive, kitchen-sink drama into the realm of magical realism; Zulawski swore that his 1981 masterwork was partially autobiographical, coming as it did so soon after a vicious and harrowing divorce. Continue reading

Jerzy Kawalerowicz – Austeria AKA The Inn (1982)

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Austeria takes place during the opening days of World War I, in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. Tag (Franciszek Pieczka) is a Jewish innkeeper whose inn (austeria means inn in the local Polish dialect) is located near the border with Russia. War has broken out and local civilians are fleeing the advancing Russian Army, and several groups of refugees have taken shelter in Tag’s inn for the night. A group of Hassidic jews from the neighboring village arrive, followed by an Austrian baroness on and a Hungarian hussar cut off from his unit… Continue reading

Andrzej Wajda – Czlowiek z zelaza AKA Man of Iron (1981)

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Wajda’s remarkable sequel to Man of Marble welds newsreel footage of the Solidarity strike to fiction in a strong investigative drama. A disillusioned, vodka-sodden radio producer is bundled off to Gdansk in a black limousine. His mission: to smear one of the main activists – who also happens to be the son of the hapless ‘Marble’ worker-hero. But, tempered by bitter experience of the failed reforms of ’68 and ’70, these new men of iron are more durable than their fathers, not as easily smashed. Media cynicism, censorship and corruption are again dominant themes, this time anchored through the TV coverage of the strike, though the conclusion hints with guarded optimism at a possible rapprochement between workers and intelligentsia. An urgent, nervy narrative conveys all the exhilaration and bewilderment of finding oneself on the very crestline of crucial historical change; and for the viewer, all the retrospective melancholy of knowing that euphoria shattered by subsequent events. Continue reading

Krzysztof Zanussi – Constans AKA The Constant Factor (1980)

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Apart from the conscience provoking “A Short Film About Killing” I have always found Western European audiences’ adulation of the Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, rather excessive, all the more so when compared to the comparative neglect of Zanussi, that other, to my mind , infinitely greater Krzysztof. During the late ’70’s and early ’80’s he produced a remarkable body of work that, although dealing with rigorous intellectual concepts, perfectly balanced head with heart. In “Night Paths” he examines a contemporary generation’s indifference to history; in “The Contract” he uses the stag as a metaphor for the nobility and strength that, in his view, Polish society fails to aspire to, while in “The Constant Factor” he makes use of mathematics in an attempt to shed light on the awesome possibilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This latter is a multi-layered work, on the one hand dealing with the consequencies of maintaining integrity within a corrupt employment situation and at a deeper level attempting to understand the randomness of fate that mankind is exposed to regardless of political dogmas or individual standards of morality. Witold, the main protagonist of the film, is a young man whose father, a famous mountaineer, has been killed in a climbing accident. He has one objective, to follow in his footsteps by joining a Himalayan expedition. However his failure to come to terms with the corrupt working practises of his colleagues leads to their thwarting his ambition. “The Constant Factor” is without doubt one of the most deeply pessimistic films I know. When I first saw it I could hardly believe the ghastliness of its ending. Even though I consider it to be one of the most profound masterworks of cinema I have to steel myself beforehand whenever I bring myself to sharing it with anyone, let alone seeing it by myself. Continue reading

Tadeusz Konwicki – Salto (1965)

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In this rich and subtle dream-play, a man arrives in a small country town and demands sanctuary from an unspecified threat. But who is he, why do people remember him differently, and can he really perform miracles? Many Poles consider this Cybulski’s greatest performance and he’s certainly on riveting form, especially when performing a ‘salto’ folk dance towards the end. Continue reading