Three years after a new era swept into Poland with the fall of communism, 1992 opened up a new world to Polish society and in particular Polish cinematography. Devoid of the previous draconian state censorship, artists purveyed an unlimited preserve open to exploration without restraint, with which came new problems and new realities.
Exploding onto the screen during these uncharted times was “Psy,” the second film of Wladyslaw Pasikowski. Translated as “Dogs” (“Psy”) it is the equivalent of “Pigs” in its derogatory reference to the police in English slang. Pigs received five prizes at the 18th Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdynia, one of the most important film festivals in Poland. But beyond the fanfare and accolades, Pasikowski’s film has become a cult classic with much of the dialogue infiltrating contemporary Polish language. Teenagers can be heard exchanging “bon mot” (good word/witty remark) on a regular basis, innocent of its original context from Pigs.
The film was not without controversy though, shocking audiences with its vulgar dialogues, cruelty and character portrayals. Pigs, is a well directed crime thriller with a good screenplay and a pinch of truth about the years of national transition in Poland at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s when everything hung in the balance. There are also many well known Polish actors in the cast, including a famous performance by Boguslaw Linda, a great Polish star who began his career in Kieslowski’s “Blind Chance” during the 1980s, following Pigs’ symbolic status of macho in Polish 1990s cinema.
The story follows the lives of former SB agents (similar to Soviet KGB) – now policemen. Franz Mauer (Linda) is one of them. He studied the law, going on to etch out a successful career in the SB. His wife leaves him and takes their son with her to the US. Then his partners are killed and he decides to avenge their murders.Controversy attributed to the film resulted from its realistic treatment of the subject material in an unromanticised bare bones fashion, embracing the cynicism and cruelty without holding back on how things really were in Poland 1989. Everything was shown in a very provocative and iconoclastic way. Like a famous scene when drunken agents take away their friend on their arms and are singing the song “The ballade of Janek Wisniewski,” known from the Andrzej Wajda’s film “Man of Iron.
“The song’s lyrics are about a strike and massacre of workmen in 1970 Gdynia. Zbyszek Godlewski ala Janek Wisniewski, an 18-year-old boy who was shot dead by soldiers during the strike, became a symbol of this historic event. For the generation of “Solidarity” the ballade was like a hymn. When it was sung by former agents who, in fact, were often killing people like Janek Wisniewski, it was a profanation.”They never flow out” – one of the agents says, as they throw a body into the river. Maybe it sounds like a sentence from an ordinary criminal film but it needs to be put in context as to who is saying this. SB (Secret Police) established in 1956 were responsible for political repression in Communist Poland.
Though not as extensive as the GDR Stasi, at the end of the 1980s SB employed nearly 25,000 agents who controlled over 90,000 secret collaborators. So the brutal methods acted out in the film make it twice as frightening. As a gangster flick, the cruelty portrayed is common to the genre as seen so often in American films, yet more chilling on reflection when you realize that these methods were actually used on ordinary people such as workers, who stood up and said “no” to Communist rule in Poland.They were the power in the country. They were not used to a situation where somebody shoots at them and a tragic scene in a hotel shows this exact interpretation. They always won. It was “the best organized mafia in the world” as one of the characters said.
But after the fall of communism roles were changing. Old friends were now new enemies. Pasikowski’s film also shows other facets of the first years of freedom. Repressions which Polish society suffered from SB agents were documented precisely in files of the SB. In 1989-1991 the destruction of all documents was started by the order of SB generals. From August 1989 to June 1992 about 650,000 records were burnt. Only 50 percent of these were ever recovered. Recent politicking has seen the problem of SB files return into the public domain where victims are projected as the guilty and those who oppressed them slipping out of view.In its day Pigs was something new in Polish cinema.
It initiated a new genre to Polish film of criminal, gangster movies made in a Hollywood style. In 1992, the film was mostly popular among young men born between the 1970s-1980s, who had little memory of the Communist period. They were not interested in who was good or bad. SB agents were just a new type of a character, a tough guy, presented without all the martyred accoutrements from previous films.In many instances these previous films were more distinguished than Pasikowski’s movie, but a younger generation at the beginning of the 1990s looks to the future and at everything that has been associated for them with freedom during the years of communism – like an American lifestyle. Pasikowski felt this need; he understood his audience and directed a movie which is still a pleasure to watch 15 years later.