Polish Cinema on DVD

Discuss internationally-released DVDs and Blu-rays or other international DVD and Blu-ray-related topics.
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L.A.
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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#451 Post by L.A. » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:36 pm

Przygody Pana Michała (3DVD)

Does this set offer English subtitles? Can someone confirm this?

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#452 Post by MichaelB » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:59 pm

L.A. wrote:Przygody Pana Michała (3DVD)

Does this set offer English subtitles? Can someone confirm this?
I'd prefer a look at the actual package before taking the plunge - some sites say yes, others not.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#453 Post by L.A. » Mon Sep 02, 2013 5:21 pm


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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#454 Post by zedz » Mon Sep 02, 2013 6:16 pm

The listing claims they do (+ French and sometimes German), and I've seen a couple of Polish Majewski DVDs that were indeed English subbed - but I have no idea if they're the same transfers / editions that are collected in these sets.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#455 Post by MichaelB » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:12 pm

MichaelB wrote:
L.A. wrote:I sent an email to Telewizja Kino Polska and asked whether they have plans to release something this year. Got a response from them earlier today, here's a quote from the email:
This October we're planning to release Andrzej Wajda's films.

Very excited what Wajda films might be in question. I understand Wesele / The Wedding (1972) has been restored recently.
So has The Young Ladies of Wilko (unveiled last year), and I believe Man of Marble is getting restored right now.
Just to update my own post, I've just found out that these seven Wajda titles are being restored:

Kanal
Hunting Flies
Landscape After Battle
Land of Promise
Man of Marble
The Young Ladies of Wilko
Man of Iron


At least three of these are definitely complete - Land of Promise, Man of Marble and The Young Ladies of Wilko have been screened already (I personally attended screenings of the first two), and Second Run has released Land of Promise.

And that list doesn't include Ashes and Diamonds, Innocent Sorcerers or The Wedding, which were completed some time ago.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#456 Post by MichaelB » Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:13 am

A quick heads-up - although online sources have been infuriatingly vague about this, I'm happy to confirm that the Blu-ray of Wojciech Smarzowski's latest, Traffic Department (Drogówka), definitely has English subtitles. (The DVD also definitely does too - with Polish discs, it's by no means a given that subtitles will be common to both formats).

Although it's quite alarming watching this particular film on BD at first - the entire opening sequence consists of a party filmed on what looks like (and probably was) a mobile phone, with all that that implies. You don't get anything that looks even vaguely high-definition until three minutes in

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#457 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:59 pm

Neither of these is out on DVD yet, but the near-simultaneous UK releases of Małgośka Szumowsa's In the Name Of (W imię...) and former assistant Tomasz Wasilewski's Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce) led Sight & Sound to commission this online piece about whether Polish cinema is finally emerging from the closet.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#458 Post by Yojimbo » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:26 pm

MichaelB wrote:
Just to update my own post, I've just found out that these seven Wajda titles are being restored:

Kanal
Hunting Flies
Landscape After Battle
Land of Promise
Man of Marble
The Young Ladies of Wilko
Man of Iron


At least three of these are definitely complete - Land of Promise, Man of Marble and The Young Ladies of Wilko have been screened already (I personally attended screenings of the first two), and Second Run has released Land of Promise.

And that list doesn't include Ashes and Diamonds, Innocent Sorcerers or The Wedding, which were completed some time ago.
Is 'Land of Promise' 'Promise Land' by another name?
That film - and 'Innocent Sorcerers' on the first box-set - caused me to completely re-evaluate Wajda.
Two wholly wonderful films; and 'Innocent Sorcerers' a particularly pleasant surprise, given my relatively low expectations for it.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#459 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:28 pm

Yojimbo wrote:Is 'Land of Promise' 'Promise Land' by another name?
Yes - I don't think there's an official English title for either the film or the source novel, so Ziemia obiecana has been translated both ways.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#460 Post by L.A. » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:05 pm

What about Lotna (1959), has it been restored yet?

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#461 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:15 pm

Not to my knowledge.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#462 Post by zedz » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:40 pm

And the available elements are in extremely poor shape, if the current DVD is any indication.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#463 Post by L.A. » Fri Oct 04, 2013 6:05 am

L.A. wrote:Filmoteka Narodowa has restored another silent, Edward Puchalski's melodrama Rok 1863 (1922).

Filmoteka emailed me that they are planning a DVD release of this. No date yet.
"Rok 1863" Edwarda Puchalskiego z 1922 roku na DVD

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#464 Post by L.A. » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:55 am

Filmoteka Narodowa emailed about the DVD just now; it has English subtitles. :D

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#465 Post by Stefan Andersson » Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:32 am

News about upcoming Wajda and Has films on Blu, spotted on blu-ray.com, posted by "Nakf":

"After a long wait, five more classic films are coming to Blu-ray in Poland next week, 3 by Andrzej Wajda and 2 by Wojciech Has.

Ziemia obiecana (The Promised Land, 1975)
Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble, 1977)
Czlowiek z zelaza (Man of Iron, 1981)
Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript, 1965)
Sanatorium pod klepsydra (The Hourglass Sanatorium, 1973)

10 more restored titles get a DVD release the same day and hopefully we'll see more of them on Blu-ray in the near future.

The price for each BD is approx. 13$ which is nice and it looks like all of them will have optional English subtitles.

http://bluedvd.pl/manufacturer/kinorp" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;"



"I believe "Ziemia obiecana" will be original cut, it was shown already on some film festivals in Poland and tv as well, and it was the longer version.

PQ will be a big upgrade for sure, I'm a bit concerned about their aspect ratios, some films shown on tv had the picture cut from their OAR to fit 16:9 screen.

There is a vimeo channel of company that restores these films: https://vimeo.com/kinorp" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Some color films appear much darker after restoration, there is also a significant change in color scheme in others (see Kieslowski's "Krotki film o zabijaniu": https://vimeo.com/75320457" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;)"


Original posts here (scroll down): http://forum.blu-ray.com/showthread.php?t=139470&page=5" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#466 Post by MichaelB » Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:08 am

It's a racing certainty that The Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana) will be sourced from the same HD master that fuelled Second Run's DVD, in which case it will definitely be the original 1974 theatrical cut - I saw it on the big screen earlier this year, and it looked fabulous.

I've also seen the restoration of Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru), which similarly looked fantastic - not least because it didn't make the mistake of trying to clean up intentional print damage. Although one dramatic improvement from my old Polish DVD was more unexpected - the subtitles (which I presume will be the same ones on the BD) now translate the numerous socialism-building quasi-patriotic songs, including the one that opens the film. Also, the big-screen version was definitely in 1.37:1 - as it should be.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#467 Post by kieslowski » Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:15 am

And the KinoRP restoration demo for Man of Marble is also in 1:37. The Short Film About Love trailer has me excited for the possibility of a Dekalog blu ray in, hopefully, the not-too-distant future.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#468 Post by perkizitore » Fri Oct 11, 2013 2:48 pm


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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#469 Post by L.A. » Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:51 am

L.A. wrote:
Filmoteka Narodowa emailed about the DVD just now; it has English subtitles. :D
- Menus in both English and Polish
- 12-minute introduction by a film historian w/English subtitles
- Newly created trailer
- Video restoration demo
- Beautiful booklet (nearly 40 pages) in Polish only

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#470 Post by GaryC » Wed Oct 16, 2013 2:46 pm

This thread is as good a place as any to ask: I'm going to be in Warsaw for four days the week after next, so are there any recommendations as to places in the city to buy Blu-rays and DVDs? I'd be particularly interested in stuff I can't get at home, which would include many of the titles in this thread. (They would have to be English-subtitled as my Polish is barely tourist-standard.)

Also interested in any recommended cinemas to visit - anything showing a Polish film with English subtitles would be of interest to me. Thanks in advance.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#471 Post by MichaelB » Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:38 pm

You generally can't go wrong with Empik (essentially the Polish HMV), and I daresay Warsaw branches will be pretty well stocked.

The magic phrase to look out for on the back of DVD/BD boxes is "Napisy: angielskie" - which will be true of a gratifying number of releases.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#472 Post by GaryC » Thu Oct 17, 2013 3:30 am

Thanks, Michael. Let's see what I find!

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#473 Post by MichaelB » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:11 am

The other thing you'll appreciate is that prices are sometimes absurdly low - unless it's for a very recent release, you'll rarely pay more than 29.99 złotys for a DVD, and prices can fall as low as 9.99, or £6.11/£2.03 at the current exchange rate. I impulse-bought the Kieślowski-scripted The Big Animal at the latter price, gambling (successfully) that there'd be fansubs available online, but rationalising that it was so cheap that it wouldn't matter even if there weren't.

Newer releases are usually in the 34.99-49.99 range (£7.13-10.18), very rarely more unless there are multiple discs/films involved.

The only problem (although I can't remember if you're Blu-ray compatible yet) is that Blu-ray prices are often considerably more - I suspect the Polish BD market isn't that well developed, so you'll end up with situations like, say, Wojciech Smarzowski's Traffic Department costing 28.49 on DVD but a whopping 69.99 on Blu-ray, or £5.80 versus £14.26! Another thing to watch out for is that it's sometimes the case that the DVD will have English subtitles but the Blu-ray won't, even if the same distributor is involved - I burned my fingers like that over Snow White and Russian Red.

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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#474 Post by MichaelB » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:35 am

Oh, and here are some recommendations for recent (2011-13) releases that are all now available in English-friendly editions - I've cut and pasted from my Gdynia Film Festival capsule reviews:

Baby Blues (Bejbi blues, 2012, d. Kasia Rosłaniec)

I was keenly looking forward to Kasia Rosłaniec’s second feature, because I’d been very impressed with her debut Mall Girls (Galerianki) in 2009 - so much so that the festival jury I was sitting on at the time took approximately ten seconds to award it Best Debut. That film was about teenage girls getting to grips with heavy-duty consumer capitalism, while the follow-up is about a seventeen-year-old single mother - and both films show both considerable empathy for teenage girls while at the same time depicting their behaviour and attitudes (especially about sex) with unflinching candour.

The protagonist Natalia (Magdalena Berus) reminded me very much of her equivalent in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank - she has the same barely contained energy and a complete inability to sit still for more than a few seconds. It would be easy enough to write her off as a Vicky Pollard, wersja Polska, but Rosłaniec makes it clear early on that despite her all too evident immaturity she’s determined to make a better fist of bringing up young Antek than her feckless mother ever did with her. But, inevitably, she also has to run various gauntlets along the way: her on-off boyfriend Kuba (Nikodem Rozbicki), his nose-wrinklingly disapproving parents, various authorities - and how do you hold down a job when you also have childcare to arrange?

The first 80% was flat-out terrific, so it’s a real shame that it takes an eleventh-hour lurch into lurid melodrama - which, while it certainly provides the film with a memorable ending, makes it feel much more sensationalised than much of what has gone before. But Rosłaniec remains a talent to watch.

Battle of Warsaw 1920 (1920 Bitwa Warszawska, d. Jerzy Hoffman)

An absolute hoot from beginning to end, this shamelessly old-fashioned patriotic melodrama about the noble upstanding Poles beating the crap out of the sly, weaselly Bolsheviks could honestly have been made at any point in the last half-century, were it not for the subject matter being politically untouchable until 1991. Polish leader Józef Piłsudski, their closest equivalent of Winston Churchill, is given the full-scale scenery-chewing General Melchett treatment (including an even more bristling moustache), and the fact that one of the main characters is a cabaret singer allows the military action to be intercut with apposite songs. It was Poland's first 3-D film, and thankfully misses few opportunities to throw things at the camera - and full-on cavalry charges in 3-D really do look very impressive indeed. You can certainly see where the money went.

Black Thursday (Czarny Czwartek. Janek Wiśniewski padł, d. Antoni Krauze)

A vivid reconstruction of one of the most notorious incidents in Polish history over the last half-century - the strike at the Gdańsk shipyards (and elsewhere) in protest at the government's decision to sharply raise food prices in December 1970, and the bungled military crackdown that led to several innocent people being shot dead. Black Thursday itself is 17 December, when the guns started firing, and in addition to depicting the activities of both the strikers and the government (Wojciech Pszoniak, one of my favourite Polish actors - he was Robespierre to Depardieu's Danton - is Polish leader Władysław Gomułka, banging the table in frustration) the film concentrates on one of the events' wholly innocent victims. Brunon Drywa was simply trying to get to work when he was hit by a stray bullet, and after a great deal of misinformation and obfuscation (naturally, the Polish media hushed up the actual massacre) his wife not only discovers that he's died in hospital but also that she has to organise a funeral in a matter of hours under strict curfew conditions. The full Polish title translates as "Black Thursday. Janek Wiśniewski Fell", a reference to the assumed - though, ironically, inaccurately recorded - name of the massacre's highest-profile victim, who would be immortalised in songs such as the one that plays loudly and angrily over the end credits: it's safe to assume that every Pole of a certain age would know exactly what the film is about from the title alone.

The Closed Circuit (Układ zamknięty, d, Ryszard Bugajski)

Ryszard Bugajski is best known in Britain (and, very possibly, in Poland too) for Interrogation (1982), a no-holds-barred dramatisation of what happened to political dissidents (or their loved ones) in the early 1950s that’s widely regarded as one of the outstanding films of its era. But in many ways, The Closed Circuit is even more disturbing, as it takes place within the last decade - and, as the closing titles reveal, many of the film’s real-life counterparts are still in their jobs.

It’s based on a real-life situation where a trio of technology entrepreneurs opened their own factory and proceeded to make huge profits from the start. Highly suspicious as to where they obtained their capital, government-backed lawyers launched an investigation and concluded that all three were involved in organised crime. Actually, they’d merely been using fundraising methods common in the West (a management buyout, for instance) but comparatively untried in Poland - but once the legal ball has started rolling, it’s impossible to stop it without severe repercussions for the reputations of everyone involved, and so things spiral into a heady but worryingly plausible cocktail of dawn raids, trauma-induced miscarriages, prison rapes and suicide attempts, not to mention financial ruination.

As in Interrogation, Bugajski doesn’t pull his punches - like Interrogation, the film is driven by a white-hot fury that such a scandal was allowed to happen in supposedly free post-Communist Poland. Naturally, comparisons with earlier eras are drawn (one bonus is that at least journalists are free to investigate scandals, albeit not without risk to their jobs), and a further twist is provided by the fact that one of the entrepreneurs, Piotr Maj (Robert Olech), is the son of a distinguished legal professor who was forced to leave Poland in 1968 (the year of some notorious expulsions, many of which were clearly anti-Semitic in nature) after being denounced by two of his students who went on to become key players in the investigation: the head of the tax office (Kazimierz Kaczor) and the chief prosecutor (Janusz Gajos), a man overfond of drawing metaphorical parallels between his day job and his weekend pursuit of hunting wild boar. In particular, one of the reasons they authorised an unnecessarily heavy-handed police raid was to get hold of Professor Maj’s unpublished memoirs to destroy any evidence. It runs two hours, but there’s not an ounce of fat on it - apparently Bugajski had considerable difficulty raising funds to make it (since it deals with a real-life scandal whose repercussions are still ongoing), but he was rewarded by it becoming a substantial box-office hit. It’s nice to see that a filmmaker of Kieślowski’s generation is still firing on all cylinders.

Courage (Wymyk, d. Greg Zgliński)

Director Greg Zgliński studied under the late Krzysztof Kieślowski and clearly had his mentor in mind when constructing this taut moral parable. While Alfred is happy to perform supposedly "daring" (actually, recklessly stupid) stunts involving his car and a level crossing, he's much less courageous in areas where it really matters - such as making a big investment to push his family firm to the next level, or intervening to stop a gang of thugs menacing a young woman on a train. Worse, he lies about his participation in the latter incident, making it doubly humiliating when YouTube-style mobile phone footage appears online - but by then he's having to deal with an appalling family tragedy that also arose from his inaction. Robert Więckiewicz, who's fast becoming one of the most versatile Polish actors of his generation (he's currently playing the title role in Andrzej Wajda's long-awaited Wałęsa) is outstanding as a man who finds his previous certainties crumbling as he's repeatedly confronted with the downsides of his refusal to take risks - but Zgliński's treatment is subtle enough to avoid accusations of finger-wagging.

80 Million (80 milionów, d. Waldemar Krzystek)

The title refers to the true story about a group of Solidarity leaders pre-emptively withdrawing all the union's funds (10 million 8-zloty membership fees = 80 million złotys) in cash after receiving a tip-off that the government is going to freeze their assets, and then they have to come up with various elaborate ways of both hiding it and converting it into comparatively inflation-proof dollars. But this is merely the central storyline of a fascinating reconstruction of the period from August 1980 to early 1982 when Solidarity activists ran rings round an increasingly unpopular government, which finally sent in the tanks in December '81 to impose martial law (the end credits include an account of the jail sentences handed out to the film's real-life counterparts). The film is particularly pointed when it comes to the various acts of civil disobedience committed by ordinary citizens, from casual passers-by up to the local Archbishop.

Imagine (d. Andrzej Jakimowski)

Comfortably the best of the three Andrzej Jakimowski features I’ve seen to date (the others being 2002’s Squint Your Eyes and 2007’s Tricks), this looks deceptively conventional if you describe it as the story of a new teacher whose inspirational but controversial methods have a galvanising effect on his charges while rubbing his superiors up the wrong way - but the crucial twist here is that almost everyone in the case (the actors as well as the characters they’re playing) is totally blind, something memorably demonstrated by English-born Ian when he removes both his glass eyes on camera to prove that he isn’t cheating.

His great personal crusade is for blind people to replace their white sticks with their imaginations, devising methods of echolocation through tongue-clicking and instinctively making Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about particular environments by keenly interpreting their sounds. By shooting the characters head on in medium shot or close-up, Jakimowski deliberately denies us the sight of what’s in front of them, in an attempt to force us to use our imaginations just as keenly - and indeed I found myself listening to and interpreting the complex, layered soundtrack far more than usual.

(NB: This came out on DVD very recently, so I haven’t checked it out for myself. Although the film is mostly in English, small chunks are in Portuguese, which might not be subtitled in a Polish edition.)

Ki (d. Leszek Dawid)

Dawid's first professional feature is fictional, but remains true to his documentary roots: it's a scrupulously realist piece about single mother Kinga, or 'Ki' (Roma Gąsiorowska, excellent) trying to keep her life together despite a natural propensity towards flaky fecklessness - a bit of a problem given that the social services are keeping a beady eye on her and the welfare of her toddler son (when a doctor prescribes "peace, and a regular routine" for him after a medical emergency, it's like a slap in the face), especially when the director of the welfare department in question happens to go to a nightclub where she's making her debut as a pole dancer (by which I don't mean a dancer from Poland). The first half is very Ken Loach (a big influence on Polish filmmakers: Krzysztof Kieślowski famously said that he'd love to have been hired to make the tea on the set of Kes), before going off into slightly different territory as she comes up with an art-project scheme that will both get one over on her tormentors and help crystallise her own wobbly sense of identity. There's also a hint of romantic comedy in her initially decidedly frosty relationship with reluctant flatmate Miko (Adam Woronowicz), though fortunately this isn't allowed to take over: a genuine romcom would never have tolerated an ending so poignantly wistful.

Loving (Miłość, d. Sławomir Fabicki)

Tomasz and Maria’s relationship could hardly be more rock-solid - she even has the initial T tattooed above her left breast. Which is just as well, as Maria (Julia Kijowska) is heavily pregnant, with all the physical and emotional vulnerability that that implies - and she’s also being openly lusted after by her boss, Adam (Adam Woronowicz), who sends her deeply unwanted flirtatious texts and emails. When Tomasz (Marcin Dorociński) accidentally stumbles upon these after his computer packs up and he has to use hers, his suspicions are naturally aroused - but the truth is far worse: Adam came round to their house and raped her, which she decided to hush up from everyone because as the town mayor it would cause a major scandal that might well have serious repercussions for her career (there being no evidence of lack of consent, and plenty of joky emails sent from her to him).

Inevitably, Tomasz finds out, shortly after the birth of their daughter - and the bulk of the film deals with the emotional repercussions. What particularly impressed me about what is almost a two-hander (Adam and the supporting characters are very much incidental) is the way director Sławomir Fabicki so acutely captures the first few weeks after birth, the sleepless nights, the postpartum depression, and the inability to think straight - not the ideal conditions under which to have a major, possibly terminal marital spat. While many Polish films have a tendency to lurch into melodrama at points like this, Fabicki maintains a steely grip on his material, right up to an ending that must sound corny as hell on paper (it involves Tomasz looking into his daughter’s eyes and realising that he can’t possibly do without her) but is actually genuinely radiant in practice. Very impressive stuff, and I must catch up with Fabicki’s earlier work (which I’ve had on DVD for an embarrassingly long time).

Manhunt (Obława, d. Marcin Krzyształowicz)

A low-key but gripping WWII drama, largely set in and around a forest encampment, in which a Polish partisan attempts to find out which of his colleagues has been tipping off the Gestapo with troop movements and other vital details. The flashback structure took a bit of time to get used to, as it's initially used without any warning, but its purpose becomes clear as previously withheld details are gradually laid bare. It's also very strong on the survivalist details: how to prepare soup based purely on natural forest ingredients (toadstools are secreted for more sinister purposes later on), and what to do about toothache when there's no possible way of seeing a legitimate dentist.

My Father's Bike (Mój rower, d. Piotr Trzaskalski)

After an elderly man's wife walks out on him, his son and grandson team up with him to try to get her back - though this is something of a narrative MacGuffin, as the film is primarily about them getting to know each other again after a long estrangement and burying various hatchets (not in each other's heads, though this wouldn't be surprising at times when things get really heated). Just to make their contrasting personalities really really obvious, grandad is into jazz, dad is a renowned classical pianist and his son is into hip-hop, which alone triggers lots of arguments, as does the combination of grandad's incontinent dog and dad's expensive car. It felt more schematic in retrospect than it came across on screen: in particular, a climax involving a classical orchestra's spontaneous performance of an Acker Bilk tune is notionally corny as hell but it packed a surprisingly powerful punch in practice.

Rose (Róża, d. Wojciech Smarzowski)

Since I was already a fan of Wojciech Smarzowski's films, and I knew in advance that this was one of the most critically acclaimed Polish films of recent years, expectations were pitched accordingly high - but even then they were comfortably exceeded. Rose is a relentlessly grim, often unbearably painful film to watch, not just because of its parade of onscreen atrocities (I don't think I've ever seen a film with quite so many rape scenes) but for the light they shed on one of the most shameful periods of central European history, in which the Czechs and Poles essentially colluded with the Allies (especially the Soviets) to embark on a programme of what can only be described as ethnic cleansing on a massive scale - historian R.M. Douglas, author of Orderly and Humane, reckons that 12-14 million people were directly affected.

Rose (Agata Kulesza) is one of them, her "crime" being insufficiently Polish to secure "verification" as a legitimate resident of Masuria, a region of central Europe that passed from Germany to Poland in 1945, its new rulers expelling as many non-Poles as possible from land that they and their ancestors had blamelessly occupied for centuries. She's guarded by Tadeusz (Marcin Dorociński), a former family friend, but he's uncomfortably aware that he has a secret of his own that he's very keen to withhold from the authorities. Smarzowski combines palm-sweating set-pieces (in order to reclaim Rose's fertile farmland, Tadeusz has to sweep for mines with nothing more sophisticated than a bayonet and a length of wire) with more complex reflections on the then-current national malaise - the dialogue switches from Polish to German to Russian for reasons of survival as much as linguistic necessity. I can only assume that the complex historical background and the lack of name actors (outside Poland, anyway) are the main things that have prevented it getting UK distribution, as it's one hell of a lot stronger than plenty of other recent films that have managed it.

Traffic Department (Drogówka, d. Wojciech Smarzowski)

Wojciech Smarzowski has one of the strongest track records of any post-Communist Polish filmmaker, but I thought this was his weakest film to date. Part of the problem is that its subject - present-day corruption in the police and other official institutions - is considerably less original than his forays into the martial law era (The Dark House) or the immediate aftermath of WWII (Rose), and diminishing returns are also setting in - while Smarzowski’s scabrously ultra-cynical approach to everyone and everything initially came as a bracing tonic, it now feels as though he’s become equally cynical about his own material, staging admittedly show-stopping set-pieces such as the one involving a car, a group of nuns, a zebra crossing, a prostitute, her client, and her involuntarily clenching teeth as the brakes are suddenly applied (I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks: it’s not a pretty sight) more for their gross-out potential than for any other reason. And at nearly two hours, it also feels significantly overlong.

That said, second-rank Smarzowski is still streets ahead of many contemporary Polish filmmakers’ best efforts, and Traffic Department still has lots to enjoy. The cast is pretty much a directory of the current cream of the Polish character-acting crop (or at least the male directory: women don’t get much of a look-in here): Bartłomiej Topa, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Eryk Lubos, Marcin Dorociński, Marian Dziędziel, Maciej Stuhr, Adam Woronowicz, Przemysław Bluszcz - if you’ve seen only a handful of recent Polish films you’ll recognise quite a few faces. Most of them are members of Warsaw’s police traffic department, an outfit which appears to be riddled with petty corruption from top to bottom - even the generally pretty upright Sergeant Król (Topa) is happy to turn a blind eye to his colleagues’ excesses, be they Sergeant Petrycki (Jakubik) and his inability to so much as glance as a woman without sticking his cock into her, Sergeant Banaś (Lubos) and his overt racism, or pretty much everyone over their weakness for a bribe or an on-duty tipple. Their commanding office Gołąb (Dziędziel) is well aware of what’s going on too, and merely instructs his underlings to keep an eye out for internal investigations and not to get caught on camera - an occupational hazard when everyone’s filming each other on their mobiles.

The central narrative concerns Król being framed for the murder of a colleague, ostensibly on the grounds that he left phone messages threatening to do just that (on the not unreasonable grounds that said colleague was shagging Król’s wife). However, we know that he has a cast-iron alibi, but proving it is another matter - as is establishing which of his colleagues is sympathetic enough to his plight that they’ll help him while officially pretending to hunt him down after he goes on the run. Naturally, his investigation turns up a lot more evidence of wrongdoing than anything that he needs to clear his name, but by then the film’s tricksy style and its constant flashbacks to poor-quality video footage was starting to get more wearying than illuminating - and while the ending is entirely consistent with the film’s overall cynicism, it didn’t exactly have one leaving the cinema on a high. Still, it’s been an enormous hit in Poland, so local audiences clearly aren’t too bothered.

Women's Day (Dzień kobiet, d. Maria Sadowska)

Longstanding supermarket cashier Halina (Katarzyna Kwiatkowska, excellent) is promoted to branch manager, and immediately finds that her loyalties are stretched well past breaking point as head office asks her not only to rationalise the staff (i.e. fire old friends) but also fiddle the timesheets and other evidence of dodgy cost-cutting. Naturally, things go horribly wrong, and Halina finds herself fired - whereupon she takes the presumably fictitious Motylek (Butterfly) chain to court to try to expose the way they exploit their staff, a scenario that would work in almost any developed country but has particular resonance in a post-Communist one: before 1989, the jobs may have been shit, but at least they were secure. All of which is very watchable indeed, but the script over-eggs things by giving Halina an impossible number of problems: a mother with cancer, a daughter who bunks off school, an affair with her superior (whose wife has MS), problems with the bank and bailiffs, etc. - all of which distract attention from a central story that already has more than enough meat on it.

You Are God (Jesteś Bogiem, d. Leszek Dawid)

Essentially, this is the Polish Control, being a biopic of Piotr Luszcz, aka Magik, the lead rapper of Polish hip-hop trio Paktofonika, whose short life followed a similar trajectory to that of Ian Curtis. Unlike the earlier film, though, I didn't know any of this going in, and the first half in particular is a genuinely fascinating study of how a distinctively Polish form of hip-hop developed in the 1990s (the subtitler rose impressively to a very considerable translation challenge). If it gets a bit predictable towards the end, that's partly the fault of the actual events on which the film was based, though one scene in which Magik hugs a fan at her request, observed live by his soon-to-be-estranged wife via CCTV and triggering a divorce, was horribly clunky - it may well have happened like that, but it felt much too pat. Still, excellent performances all round, and a memorably strong soundtrack.

Yuma (d. Piotr Mularuk)

This was pitched in advance to me as "a Polish thriller", which didn't exactly get my pulse racing - the Poles may be world class when it comes to intense psychological dramas or complex, nuanced interpretations of their national history, but most of the straightforward Polish thrillers I've seen have been pretty lousy. Thankfully, despite a handful of suspense elements and a subplot involving the Russian mafia, this wasn't really a thriller at all: set in the early 1990s, it's about a group of friends who start up a theft-and-smuggling racket between the German town of Frankfurt am Oder and their own fictional Polish hometown, with their compatriots including the border guards and the mayor happy to turn a blind eye, because they think the Germans still owe them for WWII. Part satirical comedy, part rueful reflection on the way Poland felt culturally and commercially overshadowed by the West in the years immediately following the collapse of communism and German reunification, it confirms the promise that Jakub Gierszel showed in last year's superb The Suicide Room as an unusually adventurous new star - the fluid sexuality of both his characters is particularly unusual in the context of Polish cinema, which is a good two or three decades behind the West in dealing sympathetically with gay and bisexual issues.

And that last review reminds me that I also strongly recommend Jan Komasa’s The Suicide Room, one of the best Polish debuts in living memory - the DVD is definitely English-friendly.

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L.A.
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Re: Polish Cinema on DVD

#475 Post by L.A. » Thu Oct 17, 2013 8:52 am

GaryC wrote:This thread is as good a place as any to ask: I'm going to be in Warsaw for four days the week after next, so are there any recommendations as to places in the city to buy Blu-rays and DVDs? I'd be particularly interested in stuff I can't get at home, which would include many of the titles in this thread. (They would have to be English-subtitled as my Polish is barely tourist-standard.)

Also interested in any recommended cinemas to visit - anything showing a Polish film with English subtitles would be of interest to me. Thanks in advance.
How about visiting Filmoteka Narodowa (if possible) and try if you could get these?

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