W Ciemności (In Darkness) 2011
Starring: Robert Robert Więckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Kinga Preis
Directed by: Agnieszka Holland
Is it enough to simply tell a true tale of heroism in the face of persecution to win the respect of critics and moviegoers? Agnieszka Holland’s latest feature manages to both thrill and move audiences without resorting to moral blackmail. Set in the city of Lviv (then in Poland, now in Ukraine) during the Nazi occupation, W Ciemności details the bravery of Leopold Socha (Robert Więckiewicz) – a modern Charon who, initially, takes money to conceal a group of Jews in the city’s sewers. Later his motives become less mercenary as he puts his own and his family’s lives at risk to protect his charges. The sewers where ‘his Jews,’ as Leopold would later call them, survive for 14 months are a million miles from the romantic bunker caked with blood and heroism depicted in Wajda’s classic Kanał (The Sewer, 1957). In Holland’s vision they are a filthy and nauseating maze where hope goes to die. When it comes to the escape through stairwells and channels, Holland’s long takes are every bit as sharp and enveloping as Kathryn Bigelow’s point-of-view shots. Despite its sumptuously orchestrated confusion of tongues, including a Lviv dialect of Polish, called Bałak, which the extraordinary Więckiewicz learned for the movie, W Ciemności is finding acclaim worldwide. Holland looks close to becoming the first Pole to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Code Blue 2011
Starring: Bien De Moor, Lars Eidinger, Annemarie Prins
Directed by: Urszula Antoniak
We will never know if the shower scene that makes up Code Blue’s epilogue would have softened the judgment of those scandalised audience members who walked out of its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Interestingly, when the movie was shown at La Bocca, a few kilometres down the road, the reaction was entirely less flustered. The climactic shower scene, featuring 50-year-old Bien De Moore, has been read as redemptory by some, but suggests a sensual celebration of the human body rather than a cleansing of sin. Netherlands-based Polish director Urszula Antoniak has proved that she has no fear of the consequences of radicalising her cinema, given its very deliberate implementation. The fugitive banshee in Antoniak’s Nothing Personal (2009), which won a Golden Leopard for best debut at Locarno, limits herself to announcing the death of an Irish hermit widower, but in Code Blue Dutch nurse Marian personally brings death to her terminally ill patients with lethal injections. After just two films, a wide range of motifs is already evident in Antoniak’s work. Her fascination with small, personal items, such as used combs and condoms, and the profound solitude and laconic attitude of her characters evoke the cinema of Kim Ki-duk. With two critically acclaimed co-productions abroad, Antoniak deserves the attention of Polish producers and their money.
Dzieje Grzechu (The Story of Sin) 1975
Starring: Grażyna Długolecka, Jerzy Zelnik, Olgierd Łukaszewicz
Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk
In an interview with Polish weekly Przegląd Tygodniowy published in 1999, Grażyna Długolecka, who lost 13 kilograms on the set of Dzieje Grzecha, described her work with Walerian ‘Boro’ Borowczyk as a nightmarish and morally depraved experience. This is surely a case of Linda Lovelace syndrome, in which repentant actresses cast their younger selves as victims. Compared to the rest of Borowczyk’s output, Dzieje Grzechu is relatively chaste, with only two sex scenes for Długolecka (who received a special mention at Cannes for her role in Borowczyk’s only Polish feature film after relocating to France). The film is a retelling of Stefan Żeromski novel of the same name and is set at the turn of 20th century. It follows the misfortunes of pious young woman Ewa Probratynśka (Grażyna Długolecka) as she is seduced and then abandoned by her lover (Jerzy Zelnik), and raped by two bandits. Borowczyk, once again, demonstrates his familiarity and ease with de Sadian narratives, where evil and lust are regarded as unavoidable. Rigorous in both his role as enlightened pornographer and visionary animator, Borowczyk even succeeds in rendering an episode of infanticide visually bearable.