Place of dramatic choices – On contemporary Polish cinema

Imagine a colorless world of dirt, unhappiness and tears. A contemporary world which did not change a lot through the last hundred years. A world of aggression, cruelty and poverty. A world with no hope…
This is what the newest Polish cinema is like.

Obviously, it is not fair to generalize as there are some movies refuting these claims. Nevertheless, after watching ?Plac Zbawiciela? a viewer is left stricken, with no illusions about the world or humanity itself. I think there is something similar in a number of the newest Polish movies, which allows me to analyze them jointly.   

Film critics in Poland have been complaining all over the last decade about the quality of domestic cinema. A lot of ?big-budget? productions (having actually too little budget) could never succeed artistically. Although commercially they often did ? because any time an adaptation of literary classics is made, school trips to the cinema houses can be counted on… That is the reason for the big audiences of ?Quo Vadis? (2001), ?Zemsta? (2002), ?Stara basn? (2003) and numerable others.

Those films either ineffectually tried to compete with Hollywood, or just based their hopes of success on the names of old masters like Wajda, Hoffman, or Kawalerowicz. I am pretty sure that Andrzej Wajda never asked himself if anyone would really want to see a painfully classical adaptation of an already classical play ? ?Zemsta.?

However, recently something has changed. For the first time, since, I hazard, the 80s, Polish filmmakers have something significant to say. The turning point was the moment the Polish Film Institute was established (2005) and made a decision to give money to young or unknown filmmakers. Another aspect of that change is that some investors finally understood where the money should not go. It allowed a number of new, fresh names to appear and make their movies.
 A German character from ?Warszawa? (2003, dir. D. Gajewski) says: ?My father fought in Warsaw during The Uprising. From what he said, I reckon nothing has changed in here since then.? Those words could be considered as a main motive of the most significant recent Polish movies.          
Just to mention some: ?Warszawa? (2003), ?Wesele? (2004), ?Z odzysku? (2005), ?Rozdroże Café? (2005), ?Aleja gowniarzy? (2007) and the best of all ? ?Plac Zbawiciela? (2006). No doubt, Polish filmmakers are ruthless diagnosing reality; they feel there are temporary topics that need rapid discussion.

Jan Komasa (debuted in 2005 ? Oda do radosci) says: ?The important thing in the cinema is to be honest with yourself, but to have a dialogue with the viewer as well.? (Polityka 16/2006) New Polish movies are successful with both. They do not avoid telling well-built stories, or creating developing characters and a logical plot. What is more, they do not avoid getting close to little, individual problems.

Another quote from ?Warszawa?: ?I would like to do something really big. ? No, these times are no good for big things.? That explains the range of topics ? modest dramas of average people. But when trying to analyze these films as a whole, it is hard to forget how depressing the worldview they present is.
As previously quoted, Poland is a place that never changes. Or it changes so slowly that it is hardly visible. The main reason for a character?s actions is lack of money, lack of work, lack of perspectives.

But not necessarily related to the fringes of society. When the evil of material problems bears in on a ?cultural family,? as ?Plac Zbawiciela? posits, the final point of the viewer?s endurance seems to be reached. The Krzysztof Krauze movie is a story of a vicious circle of anger and hate, originating in accommodation problems. A young family takes a bank loan for a new apartment. However, the investor building their block of flats goes bankrupt. Hidden mysteries surface, and ?the cultured home? reveals its wicked side in a final, striking disaster. It?s a very well-told and well-played story ? yet again, extremely depressing.   

The main question characters ask themselves is: to leave now, or not yet? They exist in a world possessed by just one desire ? to flee, run away, escape.
A young couple from ?Wesele? spontaneously runs away, taking a train just passing by. ?Aleja Gowniarzy? tells a story of the last day a young man spends in Lodz ? a symbolic city, the second biggest in Poland and one of the poorest.

Having no illusions about changes, he chooses Warsaw. Three characters from ?Oda do radosci? meet on a bus going to London ? each of them wants to start a new life away from here. Escape is the main topic of conversations. What to do? Where to go? What to change? Stay and sacrifice their own happiness in the name of? what? Patriotism? 

They are permanently bewildered searching for happiness. Nothing is helpful; the reality is dangerous, ugly and difficult.
It seems to me that the anger of young directors, blocked by expensive and pointless adaptations of the big masters, has now exploded with a flow of intense expression. It does not mean that those movies attempt to be realistic. There is far too much misery and despair. It?s like a condensed, desperate scream of all those who failed in search of a right place in the world after the transformation of the system.

Why must Polish cinema be so heavy? Why not do something touching but light, with a bit of subtle irony, made in passing, naturally? The Czechs Oscar winning ?Kola? (1996) is the best example.

Maybe the answer lies in the Poles? nature, rooted in a difficult history, which always lacked distance from the world, from the country, from themselves.
A famous Polish writer, Tadeusz Konwicki, called it ?a Polish complex.? I find it as a kind of ballast, which never actually allows Poles to be entirely happy and satisfied. Poland has always been a place of dramatic choices.
Yet still to be honest, new Polish cinema may not be very pleasant, but it does discuss important issues and is for sure worth attention.Photographer

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