• Datum 18-01-2014
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There is a satirical drawing, in which one man says to another: "You know how it is. Just when you think everything is starting to fall into place, you suddenly feel the heavy hand and quick breath of Poland on your neck." I would argue there aren’t many better ways of expressing the constant disenchantment with Polish national myths, the all-too-familiar self-righteousness of their advocates and the same old masculine-patriotic-martyrological heroism of their cultural representations. If cinema is a great constructor of common imagination, then it can also be a prolific deconstructor of such paled images and rusted narratives.
However, since 1989 Polish filmmakers has mostly chosen to reinforce, rather than undermine. Modern Polish cinema has been heavily scrutinized for its lack of imagination — in terms of both its stories and its storytelling, and particularly the visual style. Period films with ill-conceived grandeur and an old-fashioned pompous tone stand alongside blank dramas, dialogue-driven and ignorant of current socio-economical context. These have set the tone for the Polish cinema landscape. Fortunately, there have been signs of change — even if we’re only talking about a few directors with original ideas, the craftsmanship to carry them out and the imagination to make them striking.
If we take a look at the Polish cinema establishment, it’s still full of narrow-minded and self-indulgent wanna-be artists, who take pride in being absolutely oblivious to contemporary cinema and confining themselves to their comfort zone of outdated concepts. However, the efforts of Michal Chacinski, former artistic director of Gdynia Film Festival, who tried to turn a gathering of arrogant men into a proper national festival, created much more space for filmmakers from outside that vicious inner circle.
Last year’s edition of Gdynia Film Festival was a good representation of Polish cinema. It reminded us about scary ghosts, still haunting our filmmakers’ minds, but it also displayed a certain variety of approaches — some of them innovative and imaginative. Sadly, the latter doesn’t apply to Love, Slawomir Fabicki’s misjudged and misogynistic story in which the unbearable patterns of ‘moral anxiety cinema’ are used to portray a husband as the main victim of the rape committed on his wife. Nor does it apply to Katarzyna Roslaniec’s Bejbi Blues, for that matter, which shows the director’s capability to a create visually distinctive world which isn’t matched by her narrative discipline.
The filmmaker who always managed to combine visual imagination and discipline is Andrzej Jakimowski. His fantastic third feature, Imagine, draws the viewer into a sensual experience, in which every frame feels like a tension-inducing adventure. Sensitivity to image, as a main filmmakers’ tool, is also predominant in Ida, the winner of the festival. Following in the footsteps of Borys Lankosz’s Reverse and Wojciech Smarzowski’s Rose — although much more austere in terms of mise-en-scene — Pawel Pawlikowski deals with a difficult chapter of Polish history from an intimate point of view, revealing nuances, rather than reveling in obscure spectacle.
Which brings me to the film that really challenged the rest of Polish cinema in terms of its original take on history and visual poetics. In Papusza, Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze tell the story of the eponymous female Gypsy poet, whose work was cherished and eventually published by Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski. The directors use black and white cinematography and an observating camera to create distance between the viewer and the recreation of Gypsy culture on screen. It’s a smart, anthropological statement, devoid of exotic attractions and colonial arrogance, about the inability to know the other, to save the other, to describe the other without oppressing him with your language. As opposed to the big historical narratives, which always enforce a certain point of view, Papusza refrains from cultural violence and poses fundamental questions about memory and relationship between majority and minority in society. Here’s hoping Krauze’s film is actually a promise of a more mature and sensitive Polish cinema.

B?a?ej Hrapkowicz (@BHrapkowicz) is a film critic, contributing to Kino, filmweb.pl and Fandor, among others, and presenter of radio show Na cztery r?ce.