20 Masterpiece Animated Shorts from Poland
#photography & visual arts
small, Still from Marek Skrobecki's 'Fish', 2005, photo: Studio Se-Ma-For, 3 ichtys_04_5523079.jpg
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 that 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.
'The Tale of the Fox' by Władysław Starewicz (1930)
The Polish Inspirations of the Brothers Quay
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.
'The Changing of the Guard' by Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska (1958)
The Father of Stop-Motion Animation
In this 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.
'Labyrinth' by Jan Lenica (1962)
This film represents the philosophical and reflective strand of Polish animation. Its fans observed the world around them reflected in the fate of the ordinary, grey man and looked for philosophical generalisations. Labyrinth shows Jan Lenica's gallows humour and surrealist ideas. Lenica was a major influence on Roman Polański and many others.
'House' by Jan Lenica & Walerian Borowczyk (1958)
Labyrinth - Jan Lenica
Working together for several years, Lenica and Walerian 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.
'Red & Black' by Witold Giersz (1963)
House – Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
Like all the other Polish animators, Witold 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.
'Cages' by Mirosław Kijowicz (1967)
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Animation
Mirosław 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 also asked philosophical questions through his films. Cages is accompanied by the fantastic music of legendary Polish jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda.
'Horse' by Witold Giersz (1967)
Rosemary’s Baby: The Devil Was Not Only in the Details
The best-known shorts of the prolific animator Witold Giersz are Red & Black, Little Western and Horse. The artist 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.
'Stairs' by Stefan Schabenbeck (1968)
Stefan Schabenbeck'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...
'Son' by Ryszard Czekała (1970)
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Ryszard Czekała found meaning in storytelling. His short animations went in the direction of documentary and feature films. Son is one of his most popular films. It's the alluring story of a son's visit to his parents' house in the countryside. Exploring unrequited love and longing, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful films in the history of Polish animation.
'Journey' by Daniel Szczechura (1970)
Without Borders: Polish Experimental Documentaries
Daniel 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.
'Roll Call' by Ryszard Czekała (1970)
How Zofia Rydet's Photography Intimately Revealed Polish Homes
Czekała reveled in poetic expressions of dreams of freedom and its substitutes. Roll Call, which shows nightmarish scenes of a Nazi German concentration camp, is a brave attempt at grasping the tragedy of history. For the animation, Czekała received the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
'Banquet' by Zofia Oraczewska (1976)
Stanisław Lem: Did the Holocaust Shape His Sci-Fi World?
Humorous and metaphorical, Banquet exemplifies consumerist attitudes. Ever 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.
'A Highly Committed Film' by Julian Józef Antoniszczak (1979)
A Typical Daily Menu in Poland
The Kraków-based Studio Miniatur Filmowych was one of the most important centres of development for Polish animation in the late 1960s. This is where Julian Józef Antoniszczak (Antonisz) made his debut. 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.
'Reflections' by Jerzy Kucia (1979)
The exhibition "Antonisz: The technique is for me a kind of art" - image gallery
One of the best-known Polish animators on an international level, Jerzy 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 (spoiler alert!) by both of them being crushed by a human.
'Tango' by Zbigniew Rybczyński (1980)
Zbigniew 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; a mother breastfeeding her child. There's a plumber and a dying woman, as well as a couple which takes her place after she passes away.
'Solo in a Fallow Field' by Jerzy Kalina (1981)
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This seven-minute-long film by Jerzy Kalina 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.
'The Gentle One' by Piotr Dumała (1985)
Piotr 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, as well as a clock into a square, is achieved through a technique the animator created – scratching an image out of black plaster.
'The Tuning of Instruments' by Jerzy Kucia (2000)
Polish Design Icons Through the Eyes of Young Illustrators
'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 was lost. Unfortunately, it turned out that it was too late' – Kucia comments about Tuning of Instruments.
'The Cathedral' by Tomasz Bagiński (2002)
Silent Memorial: Family Stories on Barn Doors – Video
polish animation films
julian józef antoniszczak
The greatest revelation of recent years is Tomasz Bagiński's masterful short animations. On a distant planet, a lone wanderer approaches the doors of a mysterious building that 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 changes 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.
'Fish' by Marek Skrobecki (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.
Sources: 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. Additional sources: Cannes FF, Polish Cultural Institute NY.
Originally written in Polish, edited and translated by MJ, 27 Nov 2014