20 Masterpiece Animated Shorts from Poland
Animated films are the stuff childhoods are made of. These animations, however, aren't targeted at kids but they're not "adult" animations either. They're experimental and alternative animations which explore hidden meanings, play with stereotypes, and bring life to inanimate objects in curious worlds.
Poland boasts an impressive array of well-respected and accomplished animators. Many of them inspired the Quay Brothers. Polish animators of recent years combine cutting-edge technologies with traditional practices. Tomasz Bagiński is the face of contemporary Polish animation, but many Polish animators paved the way before him.
Władysław Starewicz – The Tale of the Fox (1930)
Polish animation was ambitious from the start. Władysław Starewicz worked with puppets and stop-motion, and the Tale of the Fox is considered his greatest achievement. It's a full-length adaptation of Goethe's Reynard the Fox.
Włodzimierz Haupe, Halina Bielińska – The Changing of the Guard (1958)
In an imaginary world, match-box characters demonstrate affection through military prowess. The work won the Short Film Prize Ex-aequo at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959.
Jan Lenica – Labyrinth (1962)
This film represents the philosophical and reflective strand of Polish animation. Its followers observed the world around them, reflected on the fate of the ordinary, grey man, and looked for philosophical generalisations. Labyrinth shows Lenica's gallows humour and surrealist ideas. Lenica was a major influence on Roman Polanski and many others.
Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyk – House (1958)
Working together for several years, Lenica and Borowczyk made surrealist collages. House is the last and most important film they produced together. The work is part of a larger series of shorts which tie in together "like a collection of poems" as Borowczyk said. House was awarded the Grand Prix at the 1958 International Experimental Films Competition in Brussels.
Witold Giersz – Red & Black (1963)
Like all the other Polish animators, Giersz was ambitious. He started creating in the 60s – the Golden Age of Polish animation – and animated images with oil-based paints, plaster and rubber stamps. Giersz's artistic output is huge and he remains active to the present day.
Mirosław Kijowicz – Cages (1967)
Kijowicz, the art historian and painter, worked with deceptively simple line drawings that belied their subversive political underpinnings. What can a human deprived of freedom do? Does human dignity depend on freedom? Kijowicz not only entertained but asked philosophical questions through his films. Cages is accompanied by the fantastic music of legendary Polish jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda.
Witold Giersz – Horse (1967)
The best-known shorts of the prolific animator Giersz are Red & Black, Little Western and Horse. The artists uses soft, spreading patches of colour painted directly on celluloid. He animates each frame himself. Horse deals with the struggles of mankind with nature – symbolised here by the horse.
Stefan Schabenbeck – Stairs (1968)
The artist's contribution to Polish animation was the Pythagorean perspective. He used film to talk about human life but stressed the micro and macro perceptions: when looked at from a different angle, life appears different. The short film Stairs is his most popular work. The "stairs" are the journey of life which lead to...
Ryszard Czekała – Son (1970)
Czekała found meaning in story-telling. His short animations went in the direction of documentary and feature films. Son (1970) is one of his most popular films. It's the alluring story of a son's visit to his parents' house in the countryside. It talks of unrequited love and longing, and is perhaps one of the most beautiful films in the history of Polish animation.
Daniel Szczechura – Journey (1970)
Szczechura gives bitter, melancholic renderings of Polish domestic life. Journey goes even further, "it's a purposeful provocation," says the artist. "Nothing happens. But whoever makes it to the end and lets themself be hypnotised by the film will be satisfied in the end. This is my most controversial film." The work opened new doors for the genre.
Ryszard Czekała – Roll Call (1970)
Czekała reveled in poetic expressions of dreams of freedom and its substitutes. Roll Call, which shows nightmarish scenes of a Nazi concentration camp is a brave attempt at grasping the tragedy of history. For the animation, Czekała received the Grand Prix at the Annecy Short Films Festival.
Zofia Oraczewska – Banquet (1976)
Humorous and metaphorical, Banquet exemplifies consumerist attitudes. More and more guests arrive at the party and the food is laid out on a long table, but here, the roles of consumer and consumption good are reversed. The film was awarded at festivals in Melbourne and Chicago.
Julian Józef Antoniszczak – A Highly Committed Film (1979)
The Krakow-based Studio Miniatur Filmowych was one of the most important centres of development for Polish animation in the late 60s. This is where Julian Józef Antoniszczak (Antonisz) made his début. Antonisz left his mark on the history of Polish animation with the non-camera technique. A Highly Committed Film is a parody of a TV report and at the same time a critique of the realities of the Polish People's Republic.
Jerzy Kucia – Reflections (1979)
He is one of the best-known Polish animators on an international level. Kucia's impressionistic portraits of town and country are masterpieces of interwoven sound and image. Reflections illustrates the eternal battle for meaning in life through a fight between two insects which is settled by both of them being crushed by a human.
Zbigniew Rybczyński – Tango (1980)
Rybczyński created "visual poetry" (so said Bogusław Zmudziński). Tango is probably the best-known short animation in Poland and most certainly the animator's biggest success. The short received an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1983. The film exhibits a plethora of social roles. In a room, a number of characters come and go. There's a boy playing football, another one exercising, there's a mother breastfeeding her child, a plumber, a dying woman and a couple which takes her place after she passes away.
Jerzy Kalina – Solo in a Fallow Field (1981)
This seven-minute-long film is an anti-ballad about the hardships faced by a farmer. To the words of a song about the "beloved homeland", the protagonist painstakingly does his work while the animation becomes a documentary and vice versa.
Piotr Dumała – The Gentle One (1985)
Dumała's most accomplished film is The Gentle One (1985). It's an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story of the same name. The effect of a table turning into a bed and a clock into a square is achieved through a technique the animator created – scratching an image out of black plaster.
Jerzy Kucia – The Tuning of Instruments (2000)
"The film derived from reflections on older generations, about those who survived the war. Their lives were wasted. Not only because of the war, but because of what came afterwards. Yet at the end of their lives, or simply at the end of our lives, there was a chance to retrieve at least some of what went lost. Unfortunately, it turned out that it was too late" – Kucia comments about Tuning of Instruments.
Tomasz Bagiński – The Cathedral (2002)
The greatest revelation of recent years is Tomasz Bagiński's masterly short animation. On a distant planet, a lone wanderer approaches the doors of a mysterious building which resembles a medieval cathedral. Lighting his way with a scant torch flame, he enters and walks along gigantic columns which seem alive. Upon reaching the nave, he stops above a precipice, and exactly then the sun rises, its light changing the pilgrim into another live column of this amazing temple. The Cathedral was the first Polish film to earn a nomination for an Academy Award since Rybczyński's Tango.
Marek Skrobecki – Fish (2005)
Skrobecki's most popular work – Fish is a metaphorical tale about failure and human existence, full of irony, yet without many typical elements of dark humour. The themes of loneliness from the director's earlier films acquire new meaning. Fish was made using classic stop-motion puppet animation as well as modern 3D computer techniques.
All the above short animations feature on the Anthology of Polish Animation DVD. The films, with French and English subtitles, can be bought on the National Audiovisual Institute's website.