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Agent Provocateurs, Dreamers, Psychotherapists – New Masters of Cinema

Nowym początkiem polskiego kina stało się powołanie w 2002 roku Polskiego Instytutu Sztuki Filmowej, finansującego produkcje filmowe, wspomagającego debiutantów i dbającego o promocję polskiego kina za granicą (fot. © Joe Penniston -
Unlike Romanian or Greek cinematography, after 2000 easily recognisable by concrete topics and film aesthetics, new Polish cinema relies on diversity.

When at the turn of the 1990s Poland witnessed system changes, its cinema was hoping for a better future and artists celebrated the end of political censorship. However, this transformation disturbed the film environment. Generous funding provided by ministries was replaced by funding coming from film institutions and financing from budgetary means ranked one of the last in Europe.


This, in turn, had its effect on the quality of film production. Young film directors copycatted Hollywood action films and a number of older masters were unable to cope with that new reality. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, author of such outstanding films as “Mother Joan of the Angels” and “Pharaoh”, got behind the camera after so many years to fulfil the dream of his life – an adaptation of  “Quo Vadis” by Henryk Sienkiewicz - and he treated producers’ refusals as a personal attack and not as an economic necessity.


Insufficient funding made the film language of Polish cinema masters sound archaic and caustic. Jerzy Hoffman’s “With Fire and Sword” and Andrzej Wajda’s “Pan Tadeusz”, despite the fact that they were immensely popular, are not the most significant achievements of both film directors. In the new Poland, Krzysztof Zanussi, leading creator of the “Cinema of Moral Anxiety”, in his film “Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease” (2000) has only once got close to the level of his “Illumination” (1972) and “The Structure of Crystals” (1969).


The new beginning of Polish cinema was possible due to the Polish Institute of Film Art, founded in 2002 to finance film productions, support beginners and promote Polish cinema abroad.


Wojciech Smarzowski is one of the most outstanding film directors of new Polish cinema. In the “Wedding” (2004) he made a perverse travesty of Stanisław Wyspiański’s national drama bearing the same title. He mockingly portrayed Polish society and all of its national sins. Further films by Smarzowski confirmed him as one of the most relentless critics of Polish society after the fall of Communism. In the “Evil House” (2009) he showed degraded, drunk and evil people and at the same time he made vicious comments on the myth of “Solidarity” – one of the founding legends of the new Poland. In the acclaimed “Rose” (2011) he faced up to the difficult war times. Also his “Road Traffic Police” (2013) – a conspiracy thriller about a policeman framed in a murder – was a critical look at Polish reality.


A completely different way of perceiving the world is proposed by Andrzej Jakimowski. He is a mature outsider. He does not put on airs and graces, he does not want to pretend to be a rebel, but he consistently builds his own film world, inviting to intimate dialogue. Jakimowski’s cinema is made of memories, small human drama, intuition and sentiments. He made his first film, “Squint your eyes” (2003), to explain the notion of time to his daughter. His latest “Imagine” (2012) is dedicated to his wife to remind her and himself that mutual closeness means the discovering and creating of a mutual world. In the meantime he made “Tricks” (2007) with direct references to the tradition of magic realism.


No talk about new Polish auteur cinema would be complete without mentioning two artists of a bit older generation: Jan Jakub Kolski and Marek Koterski. Kolski, who creates magic worlds devoid of reality, leaves his signature on each film. No matter what he makes, be it his adaptation of Gombrowicz’s novel (“Pornography”, 2003), fairy tales (“Johnnie Waterman”, 1993; “The History of the Cinema in Popielawy”, 1998) or a war-time psychological drama (“Keep away from the window”, 2000), he preserves his individuality and unique artistic expression.


Artistic distinctiveness is also Marek Koterski’s distinguishing feature. His autobiographic cinema is a kind of psychotherapy. “Nothing funny” (1995), “The House of Fools” (1984), “Day of the Wacko” (2002) or “We Are All Christs” (2006) have turned him into one of the most valued Polish film directors. Koterski’s honesty, when he talks about his own complexes, weaknesses, misogyny, romanticism, naivety, arrogance and petty-mindedness, rubs salt into out wounds.


Krzysztof Krauze has also made a contribution to Polish cinematography in the last dozen or so years. His “Debt” (1999) was one of the best films of the decade – a shocking tale about trapped people who have to make dramatic choices. “My Nikifor”, made five years later, was an intimate story of the most famous Polish naïve painter and a reflection on what being an artist means. Krauze also made one of the most realistic and strongest films of the last few decades – “Saviour’s Square” – where a family psychodrama becomes the starting point of a story of people let down by the system. Krauze’s cinema escapes any attempts of classification, but he is a distinctive personality and one of those whose films are eagerly awaited by Polish cinema lovers. In 2013 his biopic “Papusza” is to be shown, a story of a Roma poet, Papusza (BronisławaWajs).


In the 21st century the voice of female film directors is becoming more and more heard in Polish cinema. Agnieszka Holland entered the world’s cinematography already some decades ago. Her “Fever, the story of one missile” was nominated for the “Golden Bear” at the festival in Berlin in 1981, and ten years later “Europe, Europe” received an Oscar nomination. She also worked in the USA for three years, making feature-length films (“The Third Miracle”) and TV series (including the outstanding “The Wire”). However, it is “In Darkness” that is her biggest achievement in the most recent years, a story of a Lvov sewer worker saving Jews during the war, for which she received an Oscar nomination in 2012.


Another outstanding person is Dorota Kędzierzawska, one of the most original female film makers in European cinematography. Her modest and inconspicuous films tell the stories of lonely people, searching for emotions and closeness. Kędzierzawska makes their moving psychological portrayals. Especially children’s portrayals – she reflected on the subject of childhood in the “Crows” (1994), “Nothing” (1998) and “Tomorrow will be better” (2010) for which she received the peace prize Berlinale and Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk Grand Prix.


Małgośka Szumowska has also joined the circle of the most interesting female film directors. In 2004 she adapted for the screen her mother’s, Dorota Terakowska’s, novel entitled “It” about motherhood, anxiety before childbirth and roles imposed by social norms. It was the film “33 scenes from life” (2008) that proved to be a milestone in her career. This autobiographical story of a young female artist struggling to come to terms with her parents’ death is an intimate portrayal of Szumowska, extremely blunt, austere and honest. This is also the first such distinctive film provocation of this film director, who later in “Sponsoring” (2011) and “In the name of…” (2013) touched such socially sensitive issues as student prostitution or clergymen’s sexual life.


Bartosz Staszczyszyn

Artykuł został opublikowany na portalu Instytutu Adama Mickiewicza Culture.Pl

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Published: Tue, 01/04/2014 - 13:49

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