Bromski studied painting at Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1965-1970, and Polish studies at University of Warsaw in 1972-1974. In the 1960s the director worked for Polish radio as an author and presenter of music programmes. He was also a host of various music festivals. In 1978 Bromski graduated from Łódź Film School, where he studied directing. Since 1988, the director and Juliusz Machulski are running Zebra film studio, where Bromski is the literary director. In the beginning of the 1990s, he was a member of the State Cinema Comittee (Komitet Kinematografii). He has been chairman of the Polish Filmmaker Association since 1996. From 2000 onwards, Bromski has been a member of the board of management in the international film production organisation AGICOA. He is the current president of The Council of the Polish Film Institute.
Jacek Bromski is a laureate of numerous film awards. In 1985, he received the award for the Best Debut Director at the Polish Film Festival for Funeral Ceremony. His film Safe Heaven AKA In Heaven as it is on Earth turned out to be a success during the Gdynia Film Festival in 1998 — it won the awards for best directing and best comedy, as well as the The Gdańsk Radio Golden Claqueur — for the film that was applauded for the longest amount of time. In the same year, the picture also won Golden Teeth, the audience award, at the Polish Film Festival in America.
As a producer, Jacek Bromski received the Golden Lions at the Gdynia Film Festival for Girl Guide in 1995 (dir. Juliusz Machulski), The Debt in 1999 (dir. Krzysztof Krauze), and Day of the Wacko in 2002 (dir. Marek Koterski).
Bromski finished studying in the end of the 1970s — a period marked by the flourishing of a movement called ‘cinema of distrust’. At that time, the director was around the same age as most representatives of the informal school. It would only seem natural to enter that commonly acclaimed trend and enjoy the audience’s trust.
Nevertheless, Bromski consciously chose to go against the current. He’s been unenthusiastic about cinema of distrust for many years now; in a radio interview conducted by Michał Burszta on 18th August 2007 for Jazz Radio, the director justified his views — he said he noticed the flaws of such an approach as, firstly, these works, limited by censorship, were doomed to express half-truths, and secondly, under cover of public utility, the movement beat the drum for artistically weak works.
As Maciej Maniewski wrote for Kino magazine (no 78/1999):
It was already at the time he debuted that Bromski decided to make cinema that is easy to attack. The grievances are mostly about things that cannot be found in his films. They offered no salvation, conversion, unmasking, or overt emanations of intellectual depths.
Bromski’s debut was the music film Alice, directed together with Jerzy Gruza and produced in 1980. The work was loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The economic situation in Poland was dramatic at that time — first the workers’ strikes, resulting in the Gdańsk Agreement, broke out, then Solidarity got legalised and hope for change occurred, only to die out in December 1981, when the martial law was implemented.
During that unruly time Bromski was making Alice, a disco variation on Carroll’s characters, which was released in March 1982. It’s hard to image both a theme and a form less congruent with the moods of Polish society at the time.
Before the political transformation of 1989, Jacek Bromski realized two other films: the psychological drama Funeral Ceremony, and the action film Kill Me, Cop. It was especially the latter work that forced the director to defend himself against the accusations of creating schematic entertainment cinema out of touch with reality. As the director ironically commented in a conversation with Czesław Dondziłło for Film magazine (no 21/1989):
Some harbour a grudge that in a film about thieves and cops there are Polish thieves and policemen, others — that in a film about Polish thieves and policemen the reality is not Polish.
In the times of the Polish Round Table Talks, that is in the end of the 1980s, the audience and most critics still expected cinema to fulfill a social mission, whereas Bromski was making an erotic comedy, Art of Loving. Zebra film studio, established by Juliusz Machulski and Jacek Bromski shortly before the transformation of 1989, overtly praised entertainment cinema and ennobled the genres associated with popular cinema, systematically putting effort into not being associated with social mission of cinema.
In the already quoted 1989 interview, Bromski declared that he is an advocate of the approach that the art of film is a craft which should address the mass audience. A director can realize his own artistic ambition while at the same time having hypothetical financial profits in mind. As the director further explained:
If I make a decision to use a particular convention for a film, because it’s technically more difficult due to the clarity of criteria, I stick to that convention and not the outside reality. I am not pretending to be cleverer than my film, even if I am.
Despite these assumptions, reality has been given voice in Jacek Bromski’s films. Polish cuisine (a film and a TV series) was a proof of this, in a historical-political version. The 1996 comedy Children and Fish and Safe Heaven, released two years later, both tackled contemporary matters, the latter also becoming a huge hit and brining the director (alongside with the screenwriter, actors, and many cooperators) crucial awards.
The success was, to a large extent, granted by the screenplay (authored by Tadeusz Chmielewski hiding under a pseudonym), but also the director’s extraordinary intuition — he chose actors that were professionals, but most of them were not very popular. Many of them worked in a puppet theatre in Białystok on everyday basis, and naturally used the dialect of that region, which made the film even more enchanting, contributing to its authenticity.
In Safe Heaven Bromski exhibited rare inquisitiveness into everyday life, unveiling its absurds and peculiarities of people’s characters. The rural areas around Białystok, where the action is set, became an excellent scene for observing transformations going on in the country — it served as a reliable sample of the whole. Moreover, the director managed to create a cheerful, or even uplifting story about contemporary times, at the same time not giving up on numerous jokes and mockery. Tadeusz Lubuski wrote about the film for Kino magazine (no 12/1998):
Safe Heaven looks like life itself, and additionally — it goes as we wish it to. The creators are not turning away from the plagues troubling people in the late 90s: a feeling of constant danger, the ruling of mafia and money, unemployment, downfall of the Decalogue, and aberrations of democracy. We are watching all of the plagues in Safe Heaven — tamed in a fairytale manner, and subordinate to good people who were able to control them.
Both the directing and the screenplay of Safe Heaven prove that popular art does not have to function in a vacuum and ignore complicated processes occurring in reality that surrounds us. Bromski’s next film, It’s Me, The Thief was another attempt at capturing social changes. In her column in Kino magazine (no 7-8/2000), Bożena Janicka described the film as a ‘successful attempt at conjoining the demands of commercial cinema with a layer that we once would have called social’.
As the director himself said in an interview conducted by Barbara Hollender for Rzeczpospolita (16th June 2000):
In my previous film, Safe Heaven, I was showing a world that was essentially good, and had some bad sides. Now the perspective got reversed: I portray a bad world in which there are some highlights, but it’s just a matter of proportion. It’s a story about young people bereft of chance, about showing-off, ambition, and the ability to make decisions.
Both the comedy Safe Heaven and It’s Me, The Thief, which can perhaps best be described as a comedy-drama, depict human vices with kindness and compassion, which makes the viewer like the characters. However, this does not hold true in case of Career of Nikos Dyzma, an updated political satire based on a pre-war novel by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz. As Tadeusz Lubelski commented in a discussion about the film published in Kino magazine (no 4/2002): ’Neither the contemporary plot nor the humour has enough significance’.
Bromski squared up to the excellent adaptation of the novel made by Jan Rybkowski and Marek Nowicki in 1980 and he failed to equal it, similarly as Cezary Pazura failed to equal Roman Wilhelmi, the performer of the main role in the previous version.
In 2005, Bromski wrote and directed the film The Lovers of the Year of the Tiger, an exotic romance set in China in the beginning of the 20th century. The work was co-produced with and, to a large extent, financed by China. The film had ambitions to educate both the Polish and the Chinese viewers in the matters of cultural differences. It cannot be ruled out that it was doomed to fail from the very beginning, and the aforementioned cultural differences may serve as a reason. Unfortunately, a comment made by Jerzy Płażewski in a review for Kino magazine (no 9/2006) proves a point:
It would be naive to suspect that such a pioneering undertaking co-created by counterparties coming from such different traditions and value hierarchies would explore any sensitive, controversial, or ambiguous matters, that could potentially (or even unintentionally) pique one of the sides.
In the same year, Jacek Bromski made the short film And You Know What?, which, together with twelve other short forms created by other directors, became one of the parts of the film Solidarity, Solidarity, realised for the anniversary of the events of August 1980. Bromski’s segment was one of those which presented reality in a very bitter manner.
In recent years, the director came back to the lighter notes known from Safe Heaven. He also came back to the theme and place he owes his success to. The action of his 2007 film God’s Little Garden (also prepared as a TV series) is a reference to a story told by the director nine years earlier. We come back to the regions nearby Białystok, a fictional little town called Królowy Most. A part of the old crew is present, but there are also new characters and new problems, this time described by the director in his authorial screenplay.
Roman Pawłowski wrote after the premiere for Gazeta Wyborcza on 31st August 2007:
It is the nostalgic way of presenting the Polish provinces, rather than the anecdotes, that serves as the major merit of the film. The cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski presents it in a paradise-like manner: wooden houses with wild grapevines growing on them, old churches and Orthodox temples, fields surrounded by crooked fences, sandy roads as far as the eye can see. This land is inhabited by people that are a bit crazy, yet likeable; they speak with a melodious accent and live in harmony with tradition and the present.
In 2011, the director adapted the novel Entanglement by Zygmunt Miłoszewski for screen, the first part of the bestselling cycle of criminal novels about prosecutor Szacki. While preparing the adaptation, Bromski treated Miłoszewski’s book as the starting point for his own story, and subjected it to numerous transformations. Instead of prosecutor Szacki, a tired man in his forties, a female prosecutor, also called Szacka (Maja Ostaszewska) appears on screen. Other changes followed this modification. Entanglement was not particularly appreciated by the critics, and the comments were rather uncharitable. As Łukasz Muszyński wrote for Filmweb:
The director … butchered Miłoszewski’s book the screenplay was based on in a spectacular manner. The book version of Entanglement had all the assets of a good criminal story: a crafty intrigue, a likeable hero, and interesting social background. The adaptation is like an image seen in a curved mirror: it’s clumsy and offers no tension whatsoever. Bromski failed due to his own megalomania. Instead of respecting the original novel, the director decided to show that he’s the smartest among all.
Entaglement did not turn out to be a commercial success — drawing only around 130,000 viewers to the cinemas, it was the fifteenth most popular Polish film premiere in 2011.
In 2013 Bromski directed and wrote One Way Ticket to the Moon, a film in which he took the viewers on a journey to the 1960s to tell a story of two brothers who embark on a journey through Poland after they’ve been called to join the army. In his film Bromski conjoins the schemes of road films and a Bildungsroman, and One Way Ticket to the Moon became a sentimental journey to the times of Communist Poland. Bromski received an award for the screenplay during Gdynia Film Festival.
Two years later, the director explored the thriller convention to tell a story of a paid murdered and an innocent man manoeuvred into a crime. Anatomy of Evil was inspired by the mysterious murder of general Papała, a police chief constable killed in 1998. In the film, which premiered in September 2015, Krzysztof Stroiński, one of Bromski’s favourite actors, and Marcin Kowalczyk, one of the most talented actors of the young generation.
Short films directed and written by Bromski:
- 1976 — Kolarz (The Cyclist), fiction short film
- 1977 — Aniele Boży, stróżu mój (Angel of God, my guardian dear), fiction short film
Fiction films directed by Bromski:
- 1980 — Alice
- 1984 — Funeral Ceremony (also written by Bromski)
- 1987 — Kill Me, Cop (also written by Bromski)
- 1989 — Art of Loving (also written by Bromski)
- 1991 — Polish cuisine (also written by Bromski)
- 1991/93 — Polish cuisine — TV series
- 1992 — 1968. Happy New Year (also written and produced by Bromski)
- 1996 — Children and Fish (also written and produced by Bromski)
- 1998 — Safe Heaven AKA In Heaven as it is on Earth
- 2000 — It’s Me, The Thief
- 2002 — Career of Nikos Dyzma
- 2005 — The Lovers of the Year of the Tiger (also written and produced by Bromski)
- 2005 — And You Know What? (in: Solidarity, Solidarity; also written by Bromski)
- 2007 — God’s Little Garden
- 2007 — God’s Little Garden (TV series)
- 2009 — God's Little Village (also written by Bromski)
- 2011 — Entanglement (also written by Bromski, based on a novel by Zygmunt Miłoszewski)
- 2013 — One Way Ticket to the Moon (also written by Bromski)
- 2015 — Anatomy of Evil (also written by Bromski)
Jacek Bromski is also the producer/coproducer of many fiction films, including Love Stories by Jerzy Stuhr (1997), Kiler by Juliusz Machulski (1997), The Debt by Krzysztof Krauze (1999), Day of the Wacko by Marek Koterski (2002), and the documentary film Chodźcie, chodźcie czyli film o koszalińskich spotkaniach filmowych "Młodzi i film" Koszalin 2003 (Come, come: a film about film meetings ‘Youth and film’ in Koszalin 2003) by Adrian Panek and Marcin Pieczonka (2003).
Jacek Bromski and Krzysztof Kolberger are co-authors of a libretto and scenic adaptation of Grimm’s brothers Snow White (Komedia Theatre 1994, Szczecin Opera 1999).
Jacek Bromski also wrote the lyrics for the songs in his film The Art of Loving and the film Deja vu by Juliusz Machulski.
author: Ewa Nawój September 2007 updated 2015, translated by NS July 2016.