Shining Stars: Polish Film in 2018
default, Still from the movie ‘Kamerdyner’ (The Butler), directed by Filip Bajon. Pictured: Marianna Zydek, photo: Rafał Pijański/Next Fil, center, kamerdyner_filmicon_fot.-marcinmakowski_marianna-zydek.jpg
Makers of grotesque comedies and moving dramas. A documentary filmmaker who described the processes of gentrification and an author of a musical about the Inquisition. A young, talented camera crew, a future star of Polish acting and a director who abandoned medicine for cinema. Culture.pl takes a look at the shining stars of Polish cinema of 2018.
For those who were paying attention, the extent of his talent could have been noticed even a couple years ago. His camerawork for the short Moloch (2015, directed by Szymon Kapelniak) was seductive with its palpable density and unobvious beauty. Podgórski made a ruined ironworks resemble a space from a dystopic tale about a failed future.
Moloch gave Podgórski the Jan Machulski Award for Polish Independent Cinema and served as a gateway leading him to more cinematographic challenges – Bikini Blue (2017, directed by Jarosław Marszewski), which was recognised for its camerawork during festivals in Birmingham and Los Angeles and Krew Boga (Blood of God, 2018, directed by Bartosz Konopka).
In the latter, Podgórski’s camera became a tool enabling the creation of unique worlds. The creators of Krew Boga took their audience on a journey to the Middle Ages in order to tell them a story about a search for faith and the clashes between culture and nature. Podgórski’s camerawork fascinates with its spectacular and original vision and its ingenious beauty. It is no surprise then, that during the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, Podgórski received the award for best cinematography (shared with Jakub Kijowski), which only confirmed that he is now one of the most skilled cameramen in the Polish film industry.
Tomasz Knittel is the greatest revelation of Polish documentary of the last 12 months (next to Marta Prus, whom we discussed last year). Knittel first created a six-part documentary series called Blok (Block of Flats) for the Polish Television, which dealt with the culture-making role of residential neighbourhoods. Not long after that, during a festival in Kraków, he came out with Universam Grochów, a documentary about the gentrification of Warsaw, most clearly symbolised by the demolition of the iconic department store in Warsaw’s Grochów district.
The director tackled an important social issue without sounding like a columnist. There are no sociological diagnoses or scientific elaborations here. Grochów’s Universam is discussed by the shopkeepers who worked there, the old ladies who treated the store as a place to meet their friends, veterans of the local dancing club for seniors and scholars studying the landscape of Warsaw. The director used their statements to construct a humorous and touching story of people excluded from the community and pushed to the margins of visibility due to cultural and economic reasons.
Universam Grochów was one of the most interesting movies of the Kraków Film Festival and the director received the Maciej Szumowski Award for his distinctive sensibility toward social issues. A few months later, his documentary was also recognised by the audience of the Warsaw Film Festival which gave Knittel their own award.
Polish Contemporary Documentary Film
Even before she graduated from the Łódź Film School, Marianna Zydek played the leading role in a grand, historical production. In Kamerdyner (The Butler, 2018), directed by Filip Bajon, she portrayed a young aristocrat who falls in love with the titular butler. And even though Bajon, the director of Magnat (The Magnate), slightly ignored the love story plotline, focussing more on politics and discussing historical processes, Zydek’s performance was memorable.
The charismatic, intriguingly ambiguous actress was the revelation of Kamerdyner and her presence overshadowed that of her movie partner, Sebastian Fabijański.
It was not the first movie in Zydek’s career – a year ago, we were able to see her in Soyer directed by Łukasz Barczyk and produced at the Łódź Film School and in 2018, she was in Ułaskawienie (Pardon) by Jan Jakub Kolski. There is no doubt that we will soon see the young actress on screen again.
The Polish cinema needs voices like his: young, brave and fresh. Before he took to directing, Maciej Buchwald was a famous figure of the Polish comedy scene and a member of the Teatr Improwizowany Klancyk improv group. Over the last few years, he has shown that he can be a master of brilliant punchlines and absurd humour in the cinema too.
His Szczęście (Happiness, 2018), a graduation short made at the Łódź Film School, is a comedy of errors and nonsense. Buchwald transformed the story of a man looking for love, a lying life coach and a woman struggling with depression into a tale about the paradoxes of the pursuit of happiness.
He did not attempt any grand diagnoses and he did not pretend to be a film sage – he simply made a wise comedy about people who found themselves at the turning points inf their lives. He showed that he can create suspense and that he has an outstanding sense of humour and the acting by Jowita Budnik, Roman Gancarczyk, Ewa Kolasińska and Przemysław Sadowski, prove that Buchwald can also work well with actors. Let’s hope that Polish cinema will find a place for him and his sense of humour.
Masters of Polish Comedy
First, he won an award during the Kraków Film Festival for his camerawork for the documentary Over The Limit (2017) by Marta Prus. A few months later in Gdynia, Suzin received an award for his cinematography for the movie Drżenia (Tremors, 2017) by Dawid Bodzak, in which he ‘conjured a Californian atmosphere in the Polish reality’.
He is 26 and he studies at the Cinematography Department of the Łódź Film School and, during the past few months, he has won awards at the most important Polish film festivals. In Marta Prus’s documentary, his camerawork was a way of conveying the emotions, fear and the uncertainty of the protagonist. The portrait of the Russian gymnast Margarita Mamun was so moving thanks to his work.
In Drżenia, his camera carefully observed the young characters and recorded even their most delicate transformations. During the Młodzi i Film Festival in Koszalin, the jury awarded the young cameraman ‘for translating the complexity, emotions and tremors of young people into an image’.
Suzin is among the most talented cameramen of the young generation. Let’ss hope that he will soon get his chance to prove his talents working on a full-length feature film.
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He abandoned medicine for cinema (he is a trained doctor) and year after year he proves that it was not a random decision. In 2015, his 15-minute short The Last Waltz received the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood award for the best short film and his 30-minute movie Atlas (2017) earned awards in Kraków, Koszalin and Gdynia, where it was recognised for its ‘lightness of storytelling, perfect realisation and surreal humour’.
In Atlas, Kawalski told the story of a man in a psychiatric hospital. Its protagonist did not speak a word and kept holding his hands over his heads like the mythical Atlas supporting the sky. And since he himself was silent, his story was told by his doctors, nurses and other patients, and each of them had a different account of the mysterious patient’s biography.
Kawalski gave the absurd comedy a metaphorical punchline and its light form contained rather serious questions about the nature of madness, the essence of truth and about whether our crazy world can still be saved. Today, Kawalski is working on other projects – he has two full-length movies in the making, and he is the co-writer and one of the directors (with Juliusz Machulski) of the series Mały Zgon (Little Death).
After his 21 Dni (21 Days, 2014) and the movie To, Czego Chcę (What I Want, 2015) Kocur was already listed among the biggest rising stars of the young Polish cinema. The later Powrót (Return, 2016) and Nic Nowego Pod Słońcem (Nothing New Under the Sun, 2017) convinced everybody that this was no exaggeration. For Kocur, love for the grotesque is mixed with sensitivity, and the director (who is also the cameraman) both moved and amused the audiences with the stories of people facing their tragedies alone.
With 1410, he wanted to make a comedy. In the short feature he told the story of a knight and his squire who head to the fields of Grunwald to take part in the great battle against the armies of the Teutonic Order. They vigorously discuss the meaning of life, bravery, patriotism and honour – all of which will help them in battle. The problem is that neither of them knows how to get to Grunwald and the road they take leads them in an altogether different direction.
By telling this story, Kocur blended the absurdity of Monty Python with the irony of Andrzej Munk’s anti-romantic movies. Partially improvised and acted by amateurs, in 2018 the movie brought Kocur a distinction during the Kraków Film Festival and the director was lauded for his ‘courage to ask naïve questions and laugh at grand issues’.
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Her graduation short Heimat (2017) received awards at festivals in Kraków, Lisbon, Poznań and Koszalin during the last few months and a nomination for the Jan Machulski Award for Polish Independent Cinema.
The twenty-five-minute feature tells the story of a peculiar investigation. Three adults testify at a police station accompanied by their parents. They tell the police about their neighbour beating up his father. But the story of the ill-fated assault is quickly moved aside and the gradually uncovered family relations (full of fissures, tangles and complexity) become the most interesting part of the movie.
During the festival in Koszalin, journalists presented Buchwald with an award for her ‘brilliant use of everyday absurdity to create a portrait of family with all its acrobatic complexity, tenderness and freshness of its sins. And for the empty space left in the family home by a sofa and childhood.’ Her movie is a sad comedy of absurdity, but also a film full of tenderness. Those who look for similar tones in Polish cinema should follow the career of this young director carefully.
Aleksander Pietrzak had fans even before his debut Juliusz (2018) entered cinemas. His short Mocna Kawa Nie Jest Zła (Strong Coffee Isn’t Bad, 2014) gathered awards from festivals all over Poland and a fragment from the short, which was uploaded to YouTube had over million views.
In his full-length debut, Pietrzak returned to the issue of the father-son relationships and once again worked with the exceptional Wojciech Mecwaldowski. Juliusz is an absurd romantic comedy, which might not have revolutionised the genre but definitely mixed things up in contemporary Polish cinema. Mostly thanks to the stand-up comedians Pietrzak invited to co-operate. Thanks to them, the story about the difficult love between the ageing artist and his unfulfilled son had a mischievous spark and the naughty sense of humour made it possible to overlook the repetetive plot devices.
Pietrzak, who is only 26 years old now, was not only given a chance to make his debut early on, but was also commercially successful – his movie attracted almost 400,000 viewers to cinemas. We probably won’t have to wait long for this talented director’s next film.
Provocative Millennial Dreamers of Polish Cinema
During the past dozen or so months, Justyna Mytnik received numerous awards for three of her movies. In Hamtramck, her Apokalipsa (Apocalypse, 2015) was chosen as the best student movie, her Fascinatrix (2018) received an award in Świdnica, and, at the Warsaw Film Festival, she received an award for the best short documentary for her Jak Zostać Papieżem? (How To Become Pope?, 2017), a story about a boy taking part in a casting for a musical about Pope John Paul II.
Before Mytnik graduated from the Łódź Film School, she studied art history and English literature at the University of Edinburgh. In Scotland, she worked in theatre and was the artistic director of the Short Sweet Shock Festival. Her play Defunct Pig was staged at Summerhall and during the Fringe Festival.
In the end, she decided to try her luck in cinema and her movies prove that her imagination knows no bounds (and often travels into very weird territories). Mytnik is a completely unpredictable artist. After she told the story of an apocalypse brought on by pigeons (Apokalipsa) and created a musical about the Inquisition (Fascinatrix), we’re eagerly awaiting her next movie.
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polish cinema of the 21st century
In the short Bóg Zapłać (God Bless You, 2014), he told the story of a priest forced to atone for his old sins, in the documentary Proch (Dust, 2017), he discussed death and asked about the meaning of life and in the thirty-minute long Sweet Home Czyżewo (2018), he told the story of a young emigrant trying to once again arrange his life in his country of origin. The last two movies alone brought him awards during festivals in Los Angeles, Moscow, Chicago, Gdynia, Clermont-Ferrand, Kraków, Jihlava, Potsdam, Koszalin and Quebec.
In 2018, Jakub Radej received the Talent Trójki award (given by the Polish Radio) in the Film category and the jury lauded him for his ‘artistic maturity, versatility and courage to tackle difficult issues. For his consistency in creating forms that engage in dialogue with the greatest accomplishments of the Polish school of documentary.’
Originally written in Polish, translated by MW, Dec 2018