Look Out: The Rising Stars of Polish Film in 2017
Young talents and great comebacks. Charismatic actors and ambitious directors. Artists who are not afraid to tackle difficult topics, who are working to expand the language of Polish cinema. Culture.pl takes a closer look at the most important players from past twelve months in Polish cinema.
The jury of this year's Film Festival in Gdynia didn't appreciate his talent; nevertheless, we will definitely hear about him again soon. It is rare to see a young filmmaker put his more experienced colleagues to shame with his technical skills. He wraps up his concepts into perfect packages and seamlessly puts together separate stories into successful cinematic mosaics.
Maślona was previously known as a co-scriptwriter of Marcin Wrona’s Demon. In Atak Paniki (editor’s translation: Panic Attack) he shows that Poland deserves high-level entertainment cinema and that Polish comedy does not have to insult the viewer’s intelligence. He guides the viewer through the twists and turns of the stories of a dozen or so characters with confidence, and he knows exactly what, why and how he wants to tell them.
Atak Paniki is a triumph of a director's precision and diligence. The film is polished to perfection in every detail; it has youthful energy and terrific actors. It won’t be screened until January 2018, but it seems destined for success. Let's keep our fingers crossed because Poland cinema needs a strong, centred cinema and filmmakers as mature and capable as Paweł Maślona.
Debuts such as Anna Zamecka’s almost never happen. Her Communion (Komunia) is a masterpiece of a documentary – mature and clever, warm yet devoid of emotional blackmail.
In Zamecka’s debut, growing up means leaving your illusions behind. It tells the story of the 14-year-old Ola, her autistic brother and their father, who has trouble coping. It’s a story of a girl’s dream about reconciling a broken family, a story of disappointment and pain.
Zamecka’s film, first screened in 2016, was made a splash at film festivals all over the world. It received awards in Locarno, Amsterdam, Leipzig and others, and was nominated for and won the European Film Award for the Best Documentary Film. It was met with critical acclaim by such masters of documentary as Joshua Oppenheimer. Favourable reviews were well-deserved because Communion borders on masterpiece status.
This man is on fire. With his incredible magnetism, this actor seems to be the future of Polish cinema. Despite being only 26 and having graduated from a Theatre Academy just two years ago, he has already starred in over 20 films. The most important among them is Maciej Sobieszyński’s 2017 film Zgoda (editor’s translation: Consent) – his performance will surely have other directors lining up for him.
In Zgoda, set in 1945, Świeżewski plays a young man trying to get his beloved out of the concentration camp in Świętochłowice. He created a multifaceted character: a good, honest boy who discovers his fascination with violence, a jealous lover and a loyal friend. Świeżewski neither accused his character nor defended him, but showed his humanity in full.
He burst onto the Polish cinema scene, winning the Golden Lions and six other awards at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia for his first film. But Cicha Noc (editor’s translation: Silent Night) was not the only runner-up for the Gdynia awards – one of his films 60 Kilo Niczego (editor’s translation: 60 Kilos of Nothing) was included in the Best Short Film category as well.
Piotr Domalewski is not only a sensitive artist but also a hard-working beast who is already working on new projects. If they are as good as his debut, we may be witnessing the birth of a great star.
No matter what the future holds, he has already secured himself a place in the history of Polish cinema. When his film is screened, it is sure to find a place in hearts of the audience as well. Cicha Noc, a story equally funny and sad, discusses family, love and emigration; it is a touching and profound film. Wojciech Smarzowski's comedic style meets Andrzej Jakimowski's sensitivity. But Domalewski is not an imitator. Instead, he presents the truth about human emotions, experiences and fulfilment.
One of the worst things that can happen to an actor in the Polish film industry is being typecast. A person who knows that all too well is Agnieszka Suchora, known for her role of Iza in Andrzej Barański’s Dwa Księżyce (editor’s translation: Two Moons) (1992) and Go in Leszek Dawid’s Ki (2011), she eventually became a staple of comedy TV series and had to wait for someone who would give her a real chance to shine.
That person was Piotr Domalewski, who cast Suchora as Teresa, the mother of the main character in Cicha Noc. Suchora plays the role of the caretaker of the family home, who sacrificed her entire life for her family and wants to believe that it was worth it. Suchora brings a certain sadness and tenderness to her character. The scene where she and her son share a Christmas wafer has to be one of the most moving scenes in Polish cinema this year.
Although he is an experienced theatre actor, he never had much luck in terms of film roles. He appeared in a couple of TV series and had a minor role in Jacek Głąb’s Operacja Dunaj (editor’s translation: Operation Danube), however, these roles did not truly showcase his talent.
Jagoda Szelc’s Wieża: Jasny Dzień (editor’s translation: Tower: Bright Day) should be his big break. In Szelc’s debut, he plays a husband of one of the main characters, a tough, sensitive man trying to hold a broken family together. When he appears on the screen, he automatically grabs the audience’s attention and draws the camera in.
Cieluch’s strength is not only his stellar acting, which allows him to ace every scene he stars in but also an incredibly strong screen presence and a certain elusive energy. We hope to see much more of him on the big screen.
In her Łukasz i Lotta (editor’s translation: Łukasz and Lotta) from five years ago, Renata Gąsiorowska had already proved that she could talk about difficult topics with ease. Her newest film, Cipka (editor’s translation: Pussy), proves that she is still up to the task and that she is one of the most interesting people in Polish animation today.
In this 8-minute short, drawn with markers, she tells a story of a young girl who decides to brighten up her boring afternoon with a masturbation session. During this undertaking, she is confronted with difficulties, such as other people and their opinions, the outside world, as well as her own limitations. Only the title character can save the day – and guide her owner towards a path of fulfilment and self-acceptance.
Gąsiorowska tackles sexuality without prudishness or vulgarity. She talks about gender, sex and the need of self-acceptance with humour and disguises a serious topic as a silly anecdote. It is therefore absolutely no surprise that her film (made in 2016) made waves at festivals around the world in the past 12 months and received numerous awards in Clermont-Ferrand, Austin, Bilbao and more.
He had to wait a long time for his time to shine. He made his debut film Butterfly Kisses at the age of 46, ten years after the critically-acclaimed short Emilka Płacze (editor’s translation: Emilka Cries). His new full-length feature film is proof that this time wasn’t wasted.
Butterfly Kisses is one of the bravest and most nonobvious debuts in Polish cinema of the last couple of years. While telling a story about a boy who discovers his own paedophile tendencies, Kapeliński rejects banal patterns. With sensitivity yet without sensationalism, he tells the story of a man who has to confront his forbidden passion. He neither condemns nor absolves his character. He tries to understand him, shows a human in all his complexity. And even though there seems to be little action in the film, it has more tension than many thrillers.
Kapeliński, a lecturer at the London Film School and Central Film School London, shot the film in Great Britain. It won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in January 2017. Perhaps due to this success, we won’t have to wait for another film of his as long as we had to wait for his tremendous debut.
Unlike many of her colleagues, she didn’t have to wait for years for her debut. She had learned from more experienced directors and had made a number of short films. Szelc made her debut as a student of the Łódź Film School. It was thanks to the reactivation of the Indeks film studio which has been producing its students’ films in recent years.
It was there, under the supervision of provost Mariusz Grzegorzek, one of the most expressive Polish filmmakers, where Szelc could make an uncompromising, uncomfortable, powerful and ambiguous film without having to worry about the reality of the film market. Her Tower. A Bright Day is a story of a family and its mysteries, a clashing of human elements and the need for myths.
This family psychodrama is mixed with metaphysical horror, a style resembling old Bergman and Polański films, with stylistic quotes from Jorgos Lantimos and Grzegorzek. It is no surprise that her screenplay was awarded for the best debut at the Gdynia Festival and was pronounced ‘the hope of Polish cinema’. The film has also been selected to premiere at the Berlinale Festival in 2018.
He had already proven in Kuba Czekaj’s Baby Bump that he was a skilful actor. He was expressive and self-deprecating as a moustachioed policeman, and even though it was just a small role, it made an impression. Earlier he had played a serial killer in the HBO TV series Pakt, but that did not fully show off his abilities.
He truly showed his potential in The Erlprince (Polish title: Królewicz Olch), Czekaj’s second full-length film, where he played the absent, silent, firm and manly father of the main character. He was a filial phantasm; a challenge one needs to face to cross into adulthood.
In the film, he ruled the screen and absolutely hypnotised the audience. Let’s hope that we’ll see him again soon.
There is no other young Polish filmmaker whose debut I am waiting for so impatiently. Although Aleksandra Terpińska, the creator of Święto Zmarłych (editor’s translation: All Souls’ Day) and Ameryka (editor’s translation: America), has still not come out with a full-length feature film, she has already received over 40 awards at festivals all over the world, including Cottbys, Kraków, New York, Cannes and others.
At the 70th Cannes IFF, she received the Canal+ Award and the Rail d'Or Award for her film The Best Fireworks Ever (Polish title: Najpiękniejsze Fajerwerki Ever), a 28-minute story of three young people living in a war-ravaged Western city. Inspired by Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blind Chance, Terpińska's picture invites the viewer to take part in an unobvious conversation about life choices. Go or stay? Fight or wait? Burn in ideological disputes or hide behind the mask of cynicism?
All these questions are credible, and there are no easy answers in the film. Terpińska created a mature film, which avoids simplifications, has an audible pulse of today’s realities, yet remains universal and timeless.
Although Tadeusz Śliwa's name is rarely seen in the media, several million viewers watch his work every week. He is not only a respected creator of commercials but also the director of Ucho Prezesa (editor’s translation: Leader’s Ear), currently the most popular comedy show on the Polish Internet, which parodies the exploits of the members of the current government. The have been over 20 episodes since its premiere in January 2017, and strength of this political cabaret seems to be growing.
A testament to Śliwa’s directorial talents is his choice of great actors: Jerzy Bończak, Wojciech Kalarus, Cezary Żak, Andrzej Seweryn, Anna Smołowik, and the sensational Jacek Łuczak. Śliwa uses their strengths perfectly, leads them with a steady hand, skilfully stages and thoughtfully uses his short comedic episodes to build more and more elaborate structures. He also proves that there is a place for professional film production on the Polish Internet.
Originally written in Polish, Nov 2017, translated by KF, Nov 2017