It is said that with his features he could play either an angel or a psychopath. Bartosz Bielenia had his theatre debut at the age of seven, but it was a small role in the famous film ‘Disco Polo’ that brought him real fame.
He was born in Białystok in 1992. From an early age, it was clear that Bielenia had a knack for acting, which was confirmed by his lead role in Tomasz Hynek’s The Little Prince. It was thanks to this performance, at the Aleksander Węgierka Dramatic Theatre in Białystok, that he became, as he remembers, ‘the youngest taxpayer in the Podlachia region’. It can also be credited with his decision to continue with acting. As he said in an interview with Łukasz Saturczak for Dwutygodnik:
After two years of living in the theatre, I knew I couldn't imagine a better job.
He was admitted to the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków on his first attempt. While still a student, he played in Mauser by Greek director Theodoros Therzopoulos (the performance was produced in 2012 by the Jerzy Grotowski Institute in Wrocław). ‘This job opened my head a lot and set an internal compass for me’, he said a few years later in an interview with Anna Kopeć.
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Two years before graduation, he joined the Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theatre – his work here helped shape him as an artist. He made his debut in Anna Augustynowicz’s Edward II, playing alongside Jan Peszek himself. He was next given a chance by Jan Klata, the director of Stary Theatre at the time, who cast him as Edmund in King Lear. As Bielenia points out, one of the most important moments in his career was his performance in Hamlet by Krzysztof Garbaczewski. Karolina Futyma admired his performance on kulturatka.pl:
Bartosz Bielenia, as one of the Hamlets (who does not lack sensitivity and charisma despite his young age), daringly weaves between sadness, regret and joy.
Later, his output was enriched by his collaboration with Konstantin Bogomolov (Platonov), Paweł Miśkiewicz (Podepieczni), Anna Karasińska (Wszystko zmyślone), and – again – with Jan Klata: Bielenia performed in the hit Wesele (‘The Wedding’), the last performance with Klata as the managing director. In Stary Theatre, he also met director Anna Smolar – he learned daring illusionist tricks especially for her Cinderella, arousing admiration not only among the youngest audience members.
His tenure in Kraków ended in 2017 when he moved to Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Nowy Theatre based in Warsaw. His debut in the capital turned out to be another meeting with Garbaczewski: Bielenia played Pausanias in Symposium, a stage adaptation of Plato's dialogues. Then he appeared in a futuristic spectacle, The Last, directed by Romuald Krężel (February 2019). He ended the 2018/2019 season with the role of a deaf-blind man in Jędrzej Piaskowski’s Jesus. In September 2019, he worked with Jan Klata once more, performing in Debt in Kraków's Nowy Proxima Theatre, then Mother Joan of the Angels in Warsaw’s Nowy Teatr.
His name is also well known in the film industry. In 2016, Bartosz Staszczyszyn named Bielenia one of the ‘young talented people of Polish cinema’, recognising his face as one of the most unusual in contemporary Polish film. The critic, like many other cinemagoers, noticed Bielenia in Maciej Bochniak's debut film Disco Polo, a daring musical comedy in which the actor played the role of one of two diabolical butlers inspired by Michael Haneke's Funny Games. As Bielenia said in an interview for Onet Kultura, the admiration for his small role in Bochniak's debut came as a surprise to him. He expected it to be ‘just a curiosity, an ornament in the visual layer of the film’.
In 2016, he debuted in a full-length role in Wojciech Kasperski's thriller The High Frontier, where he played alongside the stars of the Polish screen: Andrzej Chyra, Marcin Dorociński and Andrzej Grabowski. As he says, it was a defining moment in his film career and the first such extensive and demanding experience on set. For this creation, he received a special mention at the OFF Camera Festival and an award at the Koszalin Youth and Film Debut Film Festival. His film resume also includes smaller roles in such films as Man with a Magic Box by Bodo Kox (2017), the notorious Clergy by Wojciech Smarzowski (2018) and Paweł Borowski’s I Am Lying Now (2019). He was also cast in 1983 – Agnieszka Holland’s popular TV series produced by Netflix.
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He also worked on the set with Agnieszka Polska, Tomasz Śliwiński, Magda Hueckel and Łukasz Palkowski, among others.
In September 2019, at the 76th International Film Festival in Venice, the film Corpus Christi directed by Jan Komasa, in which Bielenia played the leading role, premiered. Corpus Christi tells the story of an adolescent who, having left a correctional facility, starts pretending to be a priest. The role brought Bielenia plenty of awards, including the prestigious Zbyszek Cybulski Award (2019), given to the best young actors. In 2020, he also received the Passport Polityka Award, for ‘expressing that which is painful and important to all Poles, as well as his outstanding acting’.
Sources: filmpolski.pl, nowyteatr.org, e-teatr.pl, kultura.onet.pl, zaagencja.com; compiled by Marcelina Obarska, September 2019.
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