Poland’s Breakout Film Stars of 2019
default, Photo: Naima Film, Dolnośląskie Centrum Filmowe / TVP, Jan Bielecki / East News, Jacek Bednarczyk / PAP, Justyna Rojek / East News , Łukasz Kosmicki /, center, podsumowanie_film_2019_kolaz.jpg
These actors, screenwriters and directors have the ability to diagnose our society’s schisms and our souls’ atrophies. They provoke public discussions and take viewers on journeys to their own, intimate worlds. They’re charismatic, intelligent and extremely talented. Culture.pl presents ten breakout stars of the past year.
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Bartosz Bielenia in 'Corpus Christi', photo: Andrzej Wencel/Aurum Film
This year belonged to him – all thanks to his lead role in Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi as the bad boy from juvie turned provincial priest. In this role, Bielenia filled the screen with youthful energy, rebellious charm and soulful beauty. Endowed with great talent and a handsome face, with Komasa’s help he entranced and repelled the audience in turn. He manages to be absorbing and dangerous, moving and emotionally helpless.
It’s no surprise that Bielenia has raked in accolades for his performance: he received a nomination for Passport Polityka, one of Poland’s most important creative awards, the Zbigniew Cybulski award for best young actor, as well as awards from Onet and Elle in Gdynia. Only the jury knows why he didn’t also snag the main actor’s award.
The role of the hooligan with a priest’s collar may open many doors for Bielenia. After all, Corpus Christi is this year’s Polish candidate for the Oscar, and rights have already been sold to a few dozen countries. Soon we’ll be seeing Bielenia in international productions. Let’s hope his further films allow him to unfurl the full lengths of his talent.
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Zofia Domalik had one of the strongest acting debuts in recent years. In 2019, she graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw, and just a few months later – received an award from Gdynia Film Festival for best debut. She has quickly become one of the most interesting names among new actors.
She showed a sample of her talent in Małgorzata Imielska’s All For My Mother, a tale about a girl leaving juvie who tries to find her biological mother. It’s a moving portrait of a fragile teenager trying to save herself by hiding behind a mask. The protagonist, hurt by life and those around her, still maintains her innocence, but works to hide it behind vulgar posturing and brutality.
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Zofia Domalik, a graduate of the Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw, has the same unease as the ‘cat on a hot tin roof’ in Tennessee Williams’s play. She wants to shout, but her throat is stuck in silence. She wants to speak but stays silent. And because of this she’s constantly in motion, even when she’s standing still.
Film critic Łukasz Maciejewski, trans. AZ
Domalik, the daughter of actress Ewa Telega and director Andrzej Domalik, shows her readiness for show business in All For My Mother. She charms viewers with her beauty and charisma, proving her control of the screen. Simultaneously, Domalik is a mysterious presence, something incredibly delicate, causing us to believe her character even when we no longer believe the plot.
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Łukasz Kośmicki, photo: Łukasz Kosmicki / KFP / Reporter / East News
It’s not often that a 50 year old is one of the brightest newcomers on the film scene and receives an award for best debut film. This year, Łukasz Kośmicki managed this feat thanks to The Coldest Game, a spy drama taking place in Warsaw during the Cold War.
The story begins in fall of 1962, at the apogee of the Cuban Missile Crisis – the CIA nabs Joshua Mansky, a brilliant mathematician drowning his talents in alcohol. The scholar must play against chess champion Alexander Gavrylov in a high-stakes, prestigious tournament. But the rivalry is only set dressing for a dangerous spy mission, where friends turn out to be enemies, and enemies the only allies.
In telling this story, Kośmicki has proved the strength of his craft. The director, who for years worked as a cinematographer and commercial director, has turned out a first-rate tale, where dramatic espionage meets comedy in a delightful mix. Produced by the recently departed Piotr Woźniak-Starak, the film is proof that Polish cinema needs high-calibre films, the kind that can entertain without insulting the audience’s intelligence.
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The directorial debut of the year. His works as a student – The Heat and the excellent Adaptation – previously hinted that Bartosz Kruhlik might be the future of Polish cinema. Supernova, his feature-length debut, has left little room to doubt his potential and artistic talent.
Kruhlik doesn’t take any shortcuts when weaving his tale of strangers brought together after a tragic car accident. He limits the scope and location of the project, turning his characters into tragic Greek heroes, where there are no easy choices and no innocent people. Supernova leaves behind the world of slice-of-life cinema, becoming a metaphorical tale about the dissolution of ties between people, the challenges of modernity and the divisions within Poland.
Kruhlik deserves recognition for the ambitious scope of the project alone. Though there’s plenty to be impressed by. Supernova is a sign of the director’s cleverness and single-mindedness. It was originally meant to be a 60-minute film, one of many straight-to-TV films commissioned by Studio Munka. Kruhlik took the opportunity, adding in an additional 20 minutes despite the limited budget. Instead of a television debut, he entered cinemas with a splash, proving that money isn’t necessary to create an honest and piercing portrait of the modern world.
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An award for best screenplay at Gdynia Film Festival, a part in the Oscar chase, box office success and a film distributed in dozens of countries – Mateusz Pacewicz couldn’t have dreamed up a better debut for himself. His screenplay for Corpus Christi, directed by Jan Komasa, became an undeniable hit in Poland, and has been showered with awards since its premiere.
Pacewicz’s road to success began a few years ago, with the true story of a young man adopting the cloth of a priest. Inspired, Pacewicz created the first version of his screenplay, which received second place in the 2016 screenwriting competition Script Pro. Soon, the film world was interested in his story – he heard from director Jan Komasa and producers Leszek Bodzak and Aneta Hickinbotham. Under their guidance, the young screenwriter spent months refining his script. The final result was a story over 1.3 million people have watched in Polish theatres.
Pacewicz’s debut work spoke to the importance of faith and the superficiality of Polish Catholicism, painting a portrait of people dealing with the fallout of societal ostracism. For the 27-year-old screenwriter, Corpus Christi became his golden ticket into the film world, though he’s set the bar exceptionally high.
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Grzegorz Paprzycki, holding the Golden Hobby-Horse award during the 59th Krakow Film Festival, 2019, 2019, Kraków, photo: Jacek Bednarczyk / PAP
His film school assignment conquered at Poland’s most important documentary film festival, and a few weeks later he received yet another award for best debut at the Młodzi i Film festival. What’s more – Grzegorz Paprzycki managed this feat before completing his studies at the University of Silesia.
His success can be attributed to his rather bitter film – a half-hour documentary titled My Country, So Beautiful, about the political radicalisation splitting Polish society into two camps.
Paprzycki built the film using journalistic records from different political demonstrations – nationalists repeating the traditions of the right-wing National Movement and the National Radical Camp, leftists gathering under anti-fascist banners. He brought his camera to Poland’s Independence March as well as to a famous pilgrimage in Częstochowa, refraining from personal commentary. Instead of using researchers to explain the political climate, Paprzycki used images – masked brutes chanting anti-Semitic phrases, aggression against ideological opposites, and a sense of helplessness against the oncoming wave of hatred.
Without any sidestepping, Paprzycki shows us a spiralling wave of hatred. But his film carries no blame, simply fear and powerlessness against the widening ideological split. Paprzycki’s strong and formally clever film is one of the bravest and saddest offerings out there about Poland’s triumphant populist movement.
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He’s fascinated by rap, the Theatre of the Absurd and spaghetti westerns. His is one of the most distinct voices to appear on the film scene in the last few months. Hubert Patynowski is a director, screenwriter and cinematographer, who until recently only worked on music videos and commercials. Now, his debut short Don’t Change the Topic has changed the short film game.
The half-hour story took viewers to a Polish neighbourhood in 2019 A.D., where ‘good boys’ fight against the breakdown of law. When everyone functions under an honour system, you have to be loyal to your homies; you can’t be a loser, and you can’t talk to the pigs.
Patynowski’s concrete jungle becomes the stage for a family drama, forcing the characters to reassess their life’s worth and choose between a tribe or themselves.
This brutal, hip-hop heavy film received an award for best short film at the Młodzi i Film festival, while at Gdynia he received the Lucjan Bokiniec award. The reasoning behind Don’t Change the Topic’s win was for its ‘simplicity, authenticity and real passion in telling a story that leaves the viewer in shock. For its tender rendering of a human and an exceptional representation of father-son relations’. And although Patynowski, while accepting his award at Musical Theatre, said he was on the lookout for more work, he is unlikely to be in short supply after such a strong debut.
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Helena Oborska, photo: Gdynia Film Festival 2019 promotional materials
Though she’s only beginning her journey in film, Helena Oborska’s output is worth keeping an eye on. Born in 1992, she is now in her fourth year at the Łódż Film School and an alumna of the journalism programme at the University of Warsaw. Her student film has already shown that she not only has great ambitions, but also the necessary talent to realise her vision.
In Bitten, a 24-minute short, Oborska references Polański’s earlier works to tell a story caught between reality and the fantasies of a confused mind. The tale of a girl swimming in paranoia is artfully rendered under Oborska’s direction – not fearing ambiguity, she creates an oneiric landscape, harkening back to Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby.
Oborska chose an ambitious goal, but she also had the necessary tools to make it reality. In Bitten, she successfully avoids artistic pretensions, instead building a film pulsing and rich with unease, with excellent acting (the phenomenal Mary Komasa).
Although 2019 wasn’t the best year for short film in Poland, Bitten was an honourable defence of the genre, easily becoming one of the best student films of the past few years.
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This is the second time Tadeusz Śliwa has appeared on Culture.pl’s list of best debuts. Why? It’s simple – every year, he manages to take his craft to another level. From commercials he moved to web series, directing The Chairman’s Ear, and in 2019 he made another step forward, to feature films.
His film (Nie)znajomi, a remake of Paolo Genovese’s excellent film Perfect Strangers, was a pleasant surprise this past year. Based on the screenplay of the Italian hit, the Polish film stood out for its artistic boldness. Tadeusz Śliwa’s version of the screenplay became much darker, without losing its comedic flair.
With his feature-length debut, the director proved himself an excellent partner for actors as proven by Maja Ostaszewska’s brilliant performance; Tomasz Kot, Wojciech Żołądkowicz, Aleksandra Domańska and Kasia Smutniak’s performances all attest to the same.
Śliwa has proven once more that you can find the golden medium between popular fare and artistic ambition. His film not only garnered positive reviews, but also brought in 650,000 cinema-goers.
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Despite graduating from Łódż Film School’s acting department in 2011, he had to wait eight years for a real chance. It appears to have paid off. In Proceder, Piotr Witkowski took on the role of famous Polish rapper Tomasz Chada, who tragically died in 2018. His portrayal has garnered praise even from those who panned the rest of the film.
Witkowski has a roguish charm, and his charismatic presence is a match for Poland’s A-listers. What’s more – behind his natural talent lies a strong work ethic. Preparing for the role of Tomasz Chada, he spent months analysing the rapper’s songs, memorising his unique speech patterns; at the gym he built up the necessary physique and in his spare time taught himself how to skateboard.
In a conversation with Piotr Guszkowski for Esquire, he described his previous work:
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In ‘Walesa: Man of Hope’ I played a shipyard worker standing under the gate, and in ‘Warsaw 44’, a boy with a bucket. My brothers laughed that my greatest achievement would be playing ‘Passer-by Number 4’.
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Now, after the commercial success of Proceder, he is certain to not be forgotten. Piotr Witkowski has become an actor whose career is worth carefully following; this certainly won’t be his only time charming us from the silver screen.
Originally written in Polish, Dec 2019, translated by AZ, Dec 2019
Sources: Onet, Esquire