MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS
8 MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA
FROM JANUARY 16th to FEBRUARY 6th
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In December 2011, Martin Scorsese traveled to Poland to receive an honorary doctoral degree The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź. While there, he met with digital restoration expert Jędrzej Sabliński and the pair discussed the state of digital film restoration in Poland. Being a tireless advocate for film preservation and restoration, Scorsese wanted to know how his own organization, The World Cinema Foundation, could help. The result of all that discussion was Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a touring retro of Polish cinema touchstones.
Filled with intelligent, sensitive filmmaking and some breathtaking imagery, these films offer conclusive proof that a vital and imaginative art such as cinema can – and most assuredly will – thrive, even in the most oppressive circumstances. Whether you’re familiar with some of these films and directors and looking to revisit them in a specific context or you’re completely new the varied, rich body of Polish cinema, this retro is a must see.
All the screenings are in the original language with English subtitles except when indicated otherwise FST (French subtitles)
MAN OF IRON
Friday January 16th 20h15, Saturday January 17th 3:30
1981. 153 min. Dir.: Andrzej Wajda.
With: Krystyna Janda, Wieslawa Kosmalska, Marian Opania, Jerzy Radziwilowicz. Original Polish version with English subtitles
Winner of the Palme d'Or and one of the most critically lauded Polish films of the 1980s, Andrzej Wajda's sequel to his 1977 Man of Marble brings that film's allegorical portrait of Poland's Stalinist past into the post-Stalinist present.
Andrzej Wajda's 1977 film Man of Marble — a Citizen Kane-like tale about a young documentary filmmaker (Krystyna Janda) who sets out to make a film about Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a government-feted "hero of Polish labour" who subsequently disappeared after he began to turn against the regime — was one of the flagship films of the "Cinema of Moral Concern," using a critique of Poland's Stalinist past to obliquely comment upon the post-Stalinist present. That commentary became far more explicit in Wajda's 1981 sequel Man of Iron, which finds Janda's young filmmaker now married to Birkut's son Maciej (Radziwilowicz), who has become a leader of the Solidarity shipyard strikes in Gdansk; her previous search for the truth about Birkut is now ironically taken up by a middle-aged television producer, who is being pressured by the government to dig up incriminating evidence against Maciej. Interpolating dramatic scenes with contemporary news footage (and featuring Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in both), Man of Iron defied government censorship to become one of the most critically lauded Polish films of the 1980s, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
“It is not surprising that Man of Iron has won the "Golden Palm". It has won unanimous praise for several reasons. The first of these is its perfection. The virtuosity of the Polish director in transforming the most burning current issues into a film masterpiece is another. And furthermore, this is a unique occasion. The fact that the Polish cinema could make such a statement at the Cannes festival is (perhaps) a guarantee of freedom. With the irony, so valued at Cannes, it has been said that Lech Walesa should have received the best actor award.”
-JACQUELINE CARTER, FRANCE SOIR
“Wajda has never had to worry about the tricky business of presenting politics while making entertaining narrative cinema, and on the most superficial level Man of Iron exists as a technically polished, dramatically tense and moving moral tale. In another sense it offers the most succinct and compelling analysis of the background to the Polish upheaval.”
-SIGHT & SOUND
PALME D’OR – CANNES 1981
Sunday January 18th 3:30 (FST), Monday January 19th 6:30
1959. 98 min. Dir.: Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
With: Zbigniew Cybulski, Lucyna Winnicka, Leon Niemczyk. Original Polish version with English subtitles
The assorted strangers on a train discover that there is a murderer amongst them, in director Jerzy Kawalerowicz's sharply etched combination of thriller and character study.
On an overnight train to a Baltic resort, two strangers fleeing from their respective troubles — a gruff, mysterious middle-aged man (Leon Niemczyk) and a beautiful young blonde (Lucyna Winnicka) trying to evade her former lover (Zbigniew Cybulski) — wind up sharing a cabin, where initial annoyance gradually transforms into that fleeting but powerful travellers' intimacy. Meanwhile, the hurtling express becomes a setting for suspense when it is revealed that a murderer may be on board. The terror-on-a-train template is a long and honored thriller tradition, but director Jerzy Kawalerowicz here turns it to the purposes of psychological study and social analysis: the climax, where the killer is pursued across a country field by his fellow passengers, chillingly suggests that individual sins (even mortal ones) pale in the face of everyday viciousness and conformist "normality."
“Jerzy Kawalerowicz is one of Polish cinema's supreme craftsmen and secular moralists. Many of his movies deal with a world in which religion is no longer capable of guiding people towards individual happiness, and "Night Train" is no different.”
-MICHAEL OLESCZYK, ROGER-EBERT.COM
“Night Train is a taut, compelling, and insightful psychological portrait of emotional need, hysteria, and mob behavior. Using acute angle shots, high contrast lighting, and narrow, claustrophobic framing, Jerzy Kawalerowicz creates an unnaturally heightened sense of environment and perceptional acuity that reflect the passengers' subconscious duress and sublimated emotions.”
-STRICTLY FILM SCHOOL
THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT
Friday January 23rd 8:15 (FST), Saturday January 24th 3:30
1965. 182 min. Dir.: Wojciech Jerzy Has.
With: Iga Cembrzynska, Elzbieta Czyzewska, Gustaw Holoubek. Original Polish version with English subtitles
Beloved of Luis Buñuel, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, this head-spinning tapestry of madly intertwining tales is a ceaselessly entertaining exemplar of cinema delirium.
During the Napoleonic Wars, two enemy officers stumble across a mysterious book that relates the adventures of Captain Alfonso von Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) as he makes his way across eighteenth-century Spain. This tale within a tale soon spawns its own series of multiplying and cross-breeding narratives, and the borders between reality and dreams, life and death become increasingly blurred. Though often credited with helping to start Polish cinema's turn towards adaptations of classic national literature, Wojciech Has' surreal, sardonic, and ceaselessly entertaining exemplar of cinema delirium — whose devotees include Luis Buñuel, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia — is in another dimension from such respectable, handsomely mounted epics as Knights of the Black Cross or The Promised Land. Synopsis wheezes, chokes and dies in the face of the Saragossa's dizzying cascade of digressions; as Time Out opined, "this rambling, flamboyant and incoherent 'head movie' should be approached with caution by anyone who hasn't got any drugs in their system."
“The director's eye for baroque black-and-white imagery puts him behind only Bava and Welles, while the film's sharp social satire gives heft to its ambition.”
-TIME OUT NEW YORK
“A maddening celebration of the power of narrative to amuse, bewilder, disorient and entrap.”
-EYE FOR FILM
ASHES & DIAMONDS
Sunday January 25th 3:30 (FST), Monday January 26th 6:30
1958. 103 min. Dir.: Andrzej Wajda.
With: Zbigniew Cybulski, Bogumil Kobiela, Ewa Krzyzewska. Original Polish version with English subtitles
The concluding chapter of Andrzej Wajda's War Trilogy — about a young underground fighter (Polish superstar Zbigniew Cybulski) ordered to assassinate a commissar from the rival communist resistance movement — was hailed as one of the key films of postwar international cinema.
In a small Polish town on the last day of World War II, Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), a soldier in the Polish Home Army, has been ordered to assassinate a commissar from the rival communist resistance movement. Cooling his heels in a local hotel while waiting for his quarry to arrive, Maciek flirts with and quickly falls for the hotel's barmaid, whose simple purity forces the callow youth to reflect on how the war has perverted his nature, and inspires him to try and imagine a life free of violence and hate. Despite domestic opposition from the communist establishment, the concluding chapter of Andrzej Wajda's War Trilogy (following A Generation and Kanal) proved to be the director's international breakthrough, putting postwar Polish cinema on the map and making a star of its lead Cybulski, whose anachronistic and distinctly Westernized apparel of blue jeans, leather jacket and sunglasses led to his being dubbed "the Polish James Dean." (Martin Scorsese, who includes Ashes and Diamonds among his favourite films, paid homage to Cybulski by giving Harvey Keitel's Charlie a similar pair of sunglasses in Mean Streets.)
“When you watch Ashes and Diamonds, remember, you're not just seeing a film: you're looking at a manifesto that has found a voice and a face and speaks for a whole deceived generation.”
-ALEXANDER WALKER, THIS IS LONDON
“This great film by Andrzej Wajda is considered the greatest Polish film ever made, and I'm sure that's not too far off the mark.”
-JEFFREY M. ANDERSON, CELLULOID COMBUSTIBLE
THE HOUR-GLASS SANATORIUM
Friday January 30th 9:00 (FST), Saturday January 31st 3:00
1973. 124 min. Dir.: Wojciech Jerzy Has.
With : Tadeusz Kondrat, Jan Nowicki, Irena Orska. Original Polish version with English subtitles
A young man in search of his father plunges into the time- and space-defying labyrinth of a mysterious clinic, in this phantasmagorical funhouse ride from director Wojciech Has.
A young man (Jan Nowicki) arrives at a dilapidated sanatorium in search of his father, and is quickly plunged into the mysterious clinic's time- and space-defying labyrinth, encountering scenes from his childhood, hallucinatory visions of long-ago imperialist adventures, and ghostly remnants of Poland's vanished Jewish world. Adapted from the book of short stories by Polish-Jewish author Bruno Schulz (who perished in the Holocaust), this phantasmagorical funhouse ride is even wilder than director Wojciech Has' earlier classic The Saragossa Manuscript, but beneath its deliciously delirious weirdness is a profound lament for a prewar Poland rendered extinct by Nazi atrocities and communist stagnation. Has' emphasis on the distinctly Jewish milieu of Schulz's stories may have had more than a little something to do with the film's problems with the authorities; forbidden to take the film to Cannes, Has smuggled Hour-glass out of the country to screen it at the festival without official sanction, where it received the Prix du Jury.
“Jakob's crepuscular quest to reconcile himself to his past will haunt you for days.”
“Trying to describe the surreal mystique of The Hour-Glass Sanatorium is futile. This elusive Polish film is so visual -- and so resistant to a snappy plot summary -- that there's not much to say beyond "Just see it!"
Sunday February 1st 3:15, Monday February 2nd 7:00
1973. 107 min. Dir.: Andrzej Wajda.
With: Ewa Zietek, Marek Walczewski, Izabella Olszewska, Daniel Olbrychski. Original Polish version with English subtitles
A turn-of-the-century wedding celebration is haunted by the unquiet ghosts of Poland's failed nationalist past, in Andrzej Wajda's adaptation of the classic play by Stanislaw Wyspianski.
After experimenting with a wide range of subjects and styles in his films of the 1960s, Andrzej Wajda turned his attention to adapting classic works of national literature throughout much of the 1970s. Derived from the classic 1901 play by Stanislaw Wyspianski, The Wedding takes place in the countryside during the bacchanalian nuptials of an urban intellectual (Daniel Olbrychski, Wajda's new star after the tragic death of his frequent leading man Zbigniew Cybulski) and his peasant bride (Ewa Zietek), a class-crossing union much in vogue among the young modernist intellectuals of Wyspianski's generation. As the revels go on into the night, the guests are beset by a legion of unquiet ghosts, reminding them of Poland's failed nationalist past and stirring them to a ridiculous "uprising" that replays national tragedy as pantomimic farce. Continuing to broaden his stylistic palette, Wajda here ventures into the phantasmagoric territory of Wojciech Has, as the stiflingly miasmic, drink-sodden atmosphere of the nuptials interrupted by startling shock zooms to the apparitions who haunt the fringes of this sorry spectacle.
“I am convinced that with this wonderful film Wajda has reached the summit, the way to which was paved by his three or four recent films. We are surprised and happy that at the age of forty-seven Wajda remains the most outstanding Polish film director.”
-MARCEL MARTIN, ÉCRAN
“Wajda's masterpiece takes us to the very heart of Polish reality. (...) At first glance, it deals with an atmosphere of happiness in which the camera participates without restraint. Like an invited guest it clings to dancers, gets drunk on folk music, cuts into conversations, highlights the replies, look closely at faces, and then rushes to dance again. Untiring, curious, mad, but hopelessly incisive. (...) This is Poland exposed in its contradictions. (...) Poland drunk with alcohol and with words, suffering from the nobility's fantastic and ridiculous heroism, rigidly resigned and Catholic, a true likeness of the messenger who gallops on horseback through a nonexistent countryside. (...) This wonderful allegory, which successfully links the Baroque to perception, is more convincing than any deliberately didactic discourse.”
-RAYMOND LEFÈVRE, SON ET IMAGES
MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS
Friday February 6th 9:00 (FST), Saturday February 7th 3:00
1960. 110 min. Dir.: Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
With: Mieczyslaw Voit, Lucyna Winnicka, Anna Ciepielewska. Version originale portugaise sous-titrée en anglais
A devout, unworldly young priest attempts to exorcise a nun who claims to be possessed by demons, in Jerzy Kawalerowicz's strikingly designed and feverishly intense spiritual drama.
In a remote Polish town in the seventeenth century, the devout, unworldly Father Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) arrives to deal with a scandalous case of demonic possession in the local convent, where dark forces have driven many of the nuns to episodes of mass hysteria and sexually charged frenzy. The most grievously afflicted is the Mother Superior (Lucyna Winnicka), who has become the satanic mistress of the revels to the sisters under her care; confronting her in private exorcism sessions, Suryn realizes he must put his own eternal soul on the line in order to "free" the nun from a possession which she seems to relish. Jerzy Kawalerowicz's strikingly designed and feverishly intense spiritual drama brilliantly realizes a half-civilized, half-savage world where demons are no less powerful for being products of human rather than supernatural creation.
“The imagery in Mother Joan of the Angels is full if robust symbolism and beautiful, if increasingly more complex and sinister, compositions.”
-OZU’S WORLD OF FILM
“The other most memorable aspect of Kawalerowicz' cult classic, which is likely to appeal more to students of serious cinematic technique and narrative than mainstream film audiences, is its visually arresting look. Shot in stark monochrome, the sparseness of the rural setting and the bleakness of the convent, with a bare minimum of props and costumes, are not only the prefect backdrops for the unfolding tale of religious mortification and sexual temptation, but also evocative realisations of the harshness of life in the middle-ages.”
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE – 1961 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING
Sunday February 8th 3:15, Monday February 9th 7:00
1987. 85 min. Dir.: Krzysztof Kieślowski.
With: Miroslaw Baka, Jan Tesarz, Krzysztof Globisz. Original Polish version with English subtitles
Winner of the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, Krzysztof Kieslowski's darkly disturbing disquisition on murder both random and sanctioned helped launch the director's international career.
Originally airing on Polish television, The Decalogue — a series of ten short films obliquely based on the Ten Commandments — became Krzysztof Kieslowski's international breakthrough, acclaimed as one of the major cinematic achievements of the 1980s. An expanded, feature-length version of the series' fifth episode, A Short Film About Killing focuses on the intersecting trajectories of three characters: an alienated, possibly psychotic young drifter wandering through the streets of Warsaw; a middle-aged taxi driver who diverts himself through random acts of motiveless malice; and an idealistic young lawyer with a strong opposition to the death penalty. An encounter between drifter and cabbie — which, in a typically Kieslowskian irony, is both methodically planned and absolutely random — leads to a horrifying act of violence, which elicits a differently horrifying act of violence by the state. Shot by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak in a sickly greenish-yellow pallour, A Short Film About Killing won the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and along with its companion piece A Short Film About Love marked Kieslowski's last Polish efforts before he moved into glossy international co-productions with The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colors trilogy.
“Kieslowski movingly demonstrates the unexpected connections that strangers make, and ponders the metaphysical forces that not only bind us, but also redeem us.”
-EDWARD GUTHMAN, SAN FRANSISCO CHRONICLES
“Wrenching in its uncompromising indictment of capital punishment, A Short Film About Killing doesn't pull punches. Sitting through this film is the emotional equivalent of going through a grinder. Everything about the production is dark -- from its themes and characters to the manner in which Kieslowski and cinematographer Slawomir Idiak chose to shoot the picture. Bleaker even than Blue, A Short Film About Killing captures the perfect tone for an autopsy of its subject matter.”