By Marcin Radomski.
In the history of cinema we can find several unforgettable periods and schools which rise to the surface, are of universal significance and continue to fascinate viewers all over the world. One of those undoubtedly is the famous Polish Film of Moral Anxiety. “Cinema of Moral Anxiety” appeared around the mid-seventies, and soon began to enjoy enormous popularity. This trend roughly spans 1975 to 1981. It was a kind of cinema, which became the defense of fundamental values, trying to criticize the image of communism reality. Directors did not want to make political films so they genuinely tried to criticize the mechanisms of governance in a camouflaged form. Directors made films on the basis of moral problems, described selfishness, the degradation of interpersonal relationships, corruption, abuse of power. Apart from Krzysztof Kieslowski (Personel, Camera Buff, Blind Chance, No End), the main representatives of this trend were: Feliks Falk (Top Dog, And All That Jazz), Agnieszka Holland (Provincial Actors, A Lonely Woman), Krzysztof Zanussi (Family Life, The Contract). Also to the “Cinema of Moral Anxiety” belonged directors connected to other schools and other directions, such as Andrzej Wajda (Man of Marble, Rough Treatment). Polish films of moral anxiety, which arose not only out of betrayed hope and dashed ideals but also as a reaction to the failure of society in general, have much in common with the attitudes of today´s young generation in Poland. Young peoples´ fragmented perception of messages inherent in these films today reinforces their position on basic moral issues such as justice and the interpretation of good and evil in professional and private situations alike.
After 1989, when Poland became a democratic country, there were more than half a thousand feature films and several thousand documents produced – many of them at the highest artistic level. Paradoxically, those works are much less known than the Polish films that have formed behind the “iron curtain”; the cultural exchange with the outside world was limited to the Western rill, fully controlled by the communist authorities. Today, when there aren’t any communication barriers, and Poland is within the international circuit of production and distribution of motion pictures, the latest Polish films remain in the land of the unknown and are still waiting to be discovered, especially by the European viewer, but not only.
In this new situation, from the early 1990s onwards, the talented debutants tackled with their best. On the one hand Wladyslaw Pasikowski, director of Dogs (1992) and Dogs 2 (1994), the biggest commercial success of those years – the director has consciously decided to fake American action cinema in Polish conditions, creating heroes and their biggest male star of the whole decade, Boguslaw Linda. On the other hand, Jan Jakub Kolski – consistently building rural landscapes combined with the fantastic and magical atmosphere of his films that, despite their artistic refinement, specifically slow narration – won a big audience, especially the flagship Jańcio Aquarius (screened out of competition at Cannes in 1993).
At the beginning of the 21st century, high hopes were associated with the current independent films. The way, which turned out to be a path to success for American artists such as Steven Soderbergh, Todd Solondz and Quentin Tarantino, failed by the Vistula River. In Poland it was a dead end, and independent cinema did not work above the level of amateur theater. Exceptions to this rule are few: one of the directors who successfully switched from off- to mainstream cinema (while retaining artistic independence) is Przemysław Wojcieszek, who filmed Made in Poland and Secret. Both were shown at the International Film Festival in Berlin (2011 and 2012).
Now Polish films starts to appear at the most important festivals of the world: in Cannes (2012), in the “Quinzaine des Réalisateurs” section, Portrait of Memory by Martin Bortkiewicz, and produced by Studio Munk, was successfully shown. No Shame by Filip Marczewski, Yuma by Piotr Mularuk and In a Bedroom by Tomasz Wasilewski were shown in Karlovy Vary 2012. In 2011 Suicide Room by Jan Komasa was in the Panorama Special Section in the Berlinale Film Festival. Ki by Leszek Dawid went to the Venice Days screenings in 2011. At the Toronto International Film Festival Sponsoring by Małgośka Szumowska was shown in 2011; in 2012 Imagine by Andrzej Jakimowski and Baby Blues by Katarzyna Rosłaniec. The young Polish cinema is slowly also attracting the interest of foreign sales agents and distributors, for instance My Blood and Baptism by Marcin Wrona or Reverse by Borys Lankosz. The film youth easily enters adulthood: to the benefit of spectators, and the Polish film industry itself.
Currently in the Polish cinema we can see three main trends. First is settling the past. Following in the footsteps of the success of such films as Reverse by Borys Lankosz, The Little Rose by Jan Kidawa-Błoński, 80 Million directed by Waldemar Krzystek and Being Like Deyna by Anna Wieczur-Bluszcz rewrite Polish history with a focus on emotions, experiences, ups and downs of ordinary people. The second trend is connected to the universal cinema for young people such as: Suicide Room by Jan Komasa or You Are God by Leszek Dawid. Films dealing with contemporary problems of teenagers, about problems that puts obstacles in their life.
The third trend in Polish new cinema is marked by productions that open to new horizons of film language. Those include: In a Bedroom by Tomasz Wasilewski or Man, Chicks Are Just Different directed by Marek Koterski. Young and well-known artists are doing ambitious, independent features outside of designated routes.
Polish cinema is reborn, gets more and more interesting to the outside world. Hopefully, it will also be noted by the world’s festivals’ selectors and one of these films will appear in the main competition in Venice and Cannes soon.
Marcin Radomski is an independent Polish scholar and freelance writer.