Six Strangest Polish Animations
A technical dissection of a sausage dog, gluttonous clams, a stunt-fly and a desperate teddy with an axe – meet the weirdest Polish animations.
For decades, Polish animation had a serious image – Lenica and Kucia, Giersz and Szczechura, Kijowicz, Czekała and Schabenbeck were all courageous and expressive artists who experimented with form. The list of Poland’s most remarkable animations is dominated by poignant stories about solitude, about power, totalitarianism and the essence of art. But some stories are told in a milder tone – sometimes frivolous and witty. Here are a few of those:
Czarny Kapturek / Little Black Riding Hood by Piotr Dumała, 1983
"My ideal film stretches between humour and horror. It’s best when the two extremes go round in circles and meet each other", said Piotr Dumała in an interview with Paweł Sitkiewicz. But the artist’s name is certainly more often associated with gloomy tales along the lines of Dostoevsky or Kafka than with easy-going stories infused with humour.
One of exceptions in Dumała’s filmography is his Little Black Riding Hood based on the motifs from Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. By no means does Dumała’s Riding Hood resemble the one presented in the classical adaptations of the story – his tale is salacious and endearingly funny. The artist chose to draw Riding Hood as a child would, and felt free to leave behind the actual plot every now and then: here the wolf is consumed by Riding Hood, the huntsman kills Riding Hood and in the end: the wolf and the granny engage in sexual activities. Not everyone enjoyed the sexual finale, therefore the film had two endings: with and without the sexual moment.
Some still regard Black Riding Hood as impolite, which is quite hard to believe. The film probably owes its 1983 success to the fact that there was no tradition of such films at the time. Humorous films were also produced by Olo Sroczyński and Julian Antonisz, but they were completely different. Antonisz was interested in social satire, Olo on the other hand had his own world of the obscene. Black Riding Hood “was based on a popular tale and presented a classic burlesque combined with horror”, the director said.
In 1983, Little Black Riding Hood won a prize at the festival in Warna. Thanks to this, the film was distributed in cinemas as an addition to full-length movies. The youth of the time visited cinemas to watch Dumała's work rather than the feature films it supplemented.
Jak działa jamniczek / How a Sausage Dog Works by Julian Antoniszczak, 1971
In the essentially serious world of Polish animation, Julian Antoniszczak always stood out. He was an experimenter, a satirist and a master of non-camera animation. He surely was one of the wittiest animators in the history of Polish cinema. By the end of the 1960s and the early 70s he had developed his own, ironic formula for educational films. Films such as Jak to się dzieje... / As It Happens... (1970), Jak nauka wyszła z lasu / Out of the Woods (1970), Jak działa jamniczek / How a Sausage Dog Works (1971) and Kilka praktycznych sposobów na przedłużenie sobie życia / Practical Advice on How to Prolong Your Life (1974) made him a cult artist.
Antoniszczak used the non-camera technique to discuss the absurdities of social realism. He used to say:
A land-pulsating non-camera is the only antidote to the paranoid reality existing alongside.
How a Sausage Dog Works is an entertaining, yet perhaps a bit disturbing, lecture on the construction of a living dachshund. Antonisz also shows non-existent, imaginary instruments and technically advanced mechanisms. He also explains the construction of other living organisms and compares the value and use of particular organs to various appliances. It’s a pseudo-parody of a lecture, additionally accompanied by simple music and the monotonous, stammering voice of the lecturer.
Ostry film zaangażowany / A Highly Committed Film by Julian Antoniszczak, 1979
Antonisz ridiculed the propaganda of the PRL (Polish People’s Republic) and the reality of his époque by consciously choosing a mediocre form. Jan Strękowski wrote:
Vibrating, pulsating, full of motion and some plastic awkwardness that hides the fact that it is intended, his films teem with an ingenious, surprising, absurd, and illogical sense. They are grotesque and ripe with satirical commentary, full of rough sounds, as the narrations are rough, read mostly by amateurs, full of mistakes and language screw-ups. Antonisz's films, more than 20 years after the director's death – and about the same period since the fall of the communist regime – still arouse great audience interest. It is an audience that includes young viewers who may never have heard of the filmmaker who makes the realities of communist Poland seem like a fairy tale.
A Highly Committed Film became one of Antoniszczak’s most important pieces. He stylised his film as a hard-hitting TV reportage, to show the dramatic downfall of culture in the times of PRL in an ironic way: Antonisz suggests that the collapse of cultural life was a result of the elimination of kiosks and thereby elimination of posters informing of cultural events that used to be glued to the kiosks. The film was awarded with the Bronze Dragon at the 17th International Short Film Festival in 1980 and the Golden Hobby-Horse at the 20th Polish Nationwide Short Film Festival (also 1980).
Bankiet / A Banquet by Zofia Oraczewska, 1976
Zofia Oraczewska’s A Banquet is certainly not an ordinary comedy. Quite possibly, it’s not a comedy at all. Nonetheless this metaphorical story about consumer society is soaked in black humour.
More and more guests arrive to the eponymous banquet. Waiters keep on carrying dishes and the tables gradually fill up. When the elegant guests come up to the tables, macabre surprises await them – from blood-thirsty clams, through an eye-picking pheasant to a piglet biting off a woman’s breast.
Film, że mucha nie siada / A Film With No Flies On by Michał Poniedzielski, 2004
It’s not common for a students’ etude to have a life outside the festival circuit and for it to become a hit on the internet. A two-minute-long animation by Michał Poniedzielski, however, did just that. In 2006 the etude created at Łódź Film School won an Offskar – a Polish independent cinema award, and a year later it gained popularity in the internet.
It shouldn’t be surprising, because in his miniature Poniedzielski managed to tell about the solitude of artists and the capriciousness of audiences – about how an audience can turn their backs on their former idol in no time – in a witty way. The main character of the animations is a brave fly, which daintily performs aerobatics, interrupted with juicy vulgarisms. All that is accompanied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee.
Drżące trąby / Shivering Trunks by Natalia Brożyńska, 2010
Pafnucy, a hairy creature with a latex trunk, is not too happy about his physiognomy. In the newspapers, he’s got a photography of Kalasanty, a personage characterised by a joyful spirit and health. Pafnucy moves on roller skates, has issues with coordination, he’s far from being like Kalaś. He goes berserk.
– is how the author herself described the animation.
Natalia Brożyńska is a young artist who has created one of the funniest Polish animations in years at Łódź Film School. Shivery Trunks is a story about the need for acceptance, about an inferiority complex and about how the lives of the others seem more interesting than our own. But it’s also a story about a roller-skating furry creature, about a stunt-piglet and the fact that if we approach each other with an axe in hand, we’re definitely not indifferent to each other.
Brożyńska’s animation won 11 awards on numerous festivals. It also won hearts of its audience and gathered nearly 400 thousand viewers on YouTube.