The Critical New Master: Wojciech Smarzowski
The brightest new star of Polish cinema has cemented his position as one of the most severe societal commentators after the fall of communism. In The Wedding, Smarzowski took a famous 1901 play by Stanisław Wyspiański and updated its critical and sarcastic exposure for today’s society and all its national sins: drunkenness, pride, and civil disobedience. In The Dark House, he showed marginalised drunks and wrongdoers, and criticised the beatification of the Solidarity trade union movement. In the award-winning Rose, he looked into the topic of war and its consequences. His criticism of Polish reality continued with Traffic Department, and then Angel, in which he paints a ruthless portrait of human decay.
Comparing him to old guard Wajda, Polityka magazine said:
Smarzowski has unexpectedly become the most important director of our times. As Wajda once did, he portrays Poles, but he shows entirely different and ugly faces. Maybe more faithful ones?
The Intimate Talker: Andrzej Jakimowski
What permeates the films of Andrzej Jakimowski is his unique vision of the world. With every new film, he builds a cinematic environment composed of memories, small human dramas, intuition and feelings. Every film is an intimate conversation. His feature debut, Squint Your Eyes, was dedicated to his daughter. It showed her the concept of time. 2012’s Imagine is dedicated to his wife, to remind her that intimacy lies in discovering and understanding the world together. Meanwhile, his 2007 film Tricks professes his love for the literary genre of magical realism.
The Potato Fantasist: Jan Jakub Kolski
His first feature film was called Burial of a Potato, and since then it’s just got weirder.
Kolski’s auteur films are all part of a magical bizarre world that he calls Jańcioland (Johnnieland), a name that derives from one of his protagonists and also references his own name. He has adapted novels by Witold Gombrowicz (Pornography, 2003), told fairy-tale-like stories (Johnnie Aquarius,1993; The History of the Cinema in Popielawy, 1998) and shot psychological war dramas (Keep Away from the Window, 2000).
The Debtor: Krzysztof Krauze
Krzysztof Krauze is another big name in Polish cinema who left us too soon – he died of cancer in 2014.
Amongst critical and box-office successes such as My Nikifor and Saviour Square, his 1999 film The Debt remains one of the best films of the decade. It tells the story of people forced to make ugly choices in a dangerous and unstable environment, and resulted in an avalanche of reactions. It became the pretext for a broader discussion about Polish reality after the changes of 1989.
All these successes almost didn’t happen. Krauze felt his 1988 debut film New York was ‘a disaster’ and he refused to get behind a camera for the next eight years.
The Child Therapist: Dorota Kędzierzawska
Dorota Kędzierzawska specialises in therapeutic understatement. Her inconspicuous, soft films show lonely people searching for feelings and closeness. She draws moving psychological portraits of struggling characters, particularly children. Childhood is explored in Crows (1994), Nothing (1998) and Tomorrow Will Be Better (2010) for which, in 2011, she won the Berlinale Peace Prize and the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk Grand Prix.
Her use of vulnerable children and the elderly as subject matter have reputedly helped her overcome her own shyness. Inevitably, her subtle and emotional films don't fall under any single genre.
The Taboo Provoker: Małgorzata Szumowska
In the last decade, Małgorzata Szumowska has emerged as one of the most interesting contemporary directors. In 2004, she brought Stranger to the screen, her psychological story about motherhood, pre-natal fear of birth, and how roles are prescribed by society. But her breakthrough came in 2008 with 33 Scenes from Life. This autobiographical story about a young artist struggling with the death of both parents was the film that set the trend for her reputation for provoking audience reactions. She followed it up with Elles (2011) and In the Name of... (2013), which broke social taboos by talking about student prostitution and the erotic life of clergymen.
The Polish Englishman: Paweł Pawlikowski
He’s not exactly your run-of-the-mill Polish director. The BBC called Pawlikowski ‘one of Britain's leading filmmakers’, while critic Steve Blandford said his work contains ‘the purest essence of Englishness in contemporary cinema’.
So just how Polish is Paweł Pawlikowski? Well, he was born in Warsaw in 1957 and left Poland at the age of 14. His mother told him they were going on holiday but it turned out they had actually been exiled by the communist government.
Perhaps this is why he’s seen as a ‘hybrid filmmaker’ caught between realities. His imagination and way of illustrating are closer to Western European traditions than those espoused by the Polish Film School or the ‘cinema of moral anxiety’.
In 2013, Pawlikowski became internationally well-known thanks to the film Ida. Shot in Poland, the black-and-white psychological drama not only made headlines but it also won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.