Andrzej Wajda – Walesa. Czlowiek z nadziei AKA Walesa: Man of Hope (2013)

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The depiction of the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Poland’s Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, as events in the 1970s lead to a peaceful revolution.

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Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s. Following the bloody aftermath, which remains with Wałęsa, he concentrates on his day-to-day duties. Ten years later, a new uprising occurs and he becomes an unexpected and charismatic leader of Polish dockworkers. Continue reading

Jerzy Kawalerowicz – Pociag AKA Night Train (1959)

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Two strangers, Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) and Marta (Lucyna Winnicka), accidentally end up holding tickets for the same sleeping chamber on an overnight train to the Baltic Sea coast. While handsome, well dressed and rather laconic, Jerzy seems ill at ease, while Marta is not talkative and would prefer to be alone. Staszek (Zbigniew Cybulski) is a student and Marta’s spurned lover, and will not leave her alone. When the police enter the train in search of a murderer on the lam, rumors fly and everything seems to point toward one of the main characters as the culprit. [spoiler removed from quote] Continue reading

Jerzy Skolimowski – Walkower AKA Walkover (1965)

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Jerzy Skolimowski’s second feature (and first full-length narrative) cemented his status as a one-man Polish New Wave, with the rhythms of his films influenced as much by jazz and (his own) poetry as by more conventional storytelling. Skolimowski himself plays a dropout-turned-amateur boxer who’s distracted from his bouts when Teresa (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka), an old university friend, re-enters his life. Continue reading

Krzysztof Zanussi – Iluminacja AKA Illumination (1973)

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Unanimous winner of all three main prizes at the 1973 Locarno International Film Festival, Zanussi’s landmark film is a dazzling kaleidoscope of ideas and images. Illumination explores the life of a selfabsorbed young physicist trying to understand his place in the universe. He thinks science will provide the answers, but ultimately learns far more about himself through experiencing love, betrayal, loss, and facing his own mortality. As much a philosophical essay as a narrative feature, Illumination is a cinematic mosaic combining art and science, intellect and emotion. Innovatively structured, this unflinching examination of one man’s life became an iconic cultural marker for a whole generation. Continue reading

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