Browsing: Poland

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema hour-glass sanatorium_1-1

Wojciech Has’ screen adaptation of Polish Jewish writer Bruno Schulz’ 1930s stories begins with a fluid opening shot that presents a frame within a frame and efficiently establishes its interlocking themes of time, mortality, consciousness, and narrative. The camera pans across a winter-lit sky and then several trees empty of branches but covered with patches of snow. As it continues to focus on the breadth of the trees, the camera lowers, as if to bring the spectator’s eye level to the ground. But as the camera pans down, the sky and trees recede to the background and the film frame reveals a window frame from inside a train. With unassuming economy, Has goes from exterior to interior, lightness to darkness, and the actual to the imaginary. This train is, in fact, headed towards the titular sanatorium and contains the main protagonist Joseph (Jan Nowicki), whose journey in the film is less a physical one than one within the castle of his mind revolving around his experiences, memories, and dreams.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema 1-F-1974-171-800x800

Something kept nagging at me when I was watching Andrzej Wajda’s The Wedding. It wasn’t anything bad, mind you. There was something ticking in the back of my head. The way Wajda had interpreted Stanislaw Wyspianski’s play on screen had me scratching my head. The play itself is an astounding piece of work . In the play, Wyspianski takes his attendance of a poet friend’s wedding and makes them a boiler pot for political and ideological dialogues. In watching it, I remembered one of my favourite films in Italian cinema, And The Ship Sails On (1983) by Federico Fellini.

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There’s something mysterious, somewhat regal, and distancing about trains. On one level, a train is simply a form of mass transportation of the sort we see a fair amount of these days. But trains were the first (never underestimate being the first), and they still capture our collective desire for exploration, for new horizons, for new beginnings. A train is a way out of the past toward a future that almost has to be brighter. There’s a reason we have the expression “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Trains also create an odd sort of distanced intimacy. People are cramped together physically, but often they are strangers otherwise. They share this small space, but little else about their lives or experiences. Everyone on a train is a mystery that you in some ways understand more intimately than most others. This mystery, and the twin emotions of dread and possibility that come with it, forms the center of Night Train, director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Hitchcock homage.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema black cross_1-1

There’s something irresistible about a good historical epic. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to major on spectacle that allows for a uniquely cinematic experience. With a vast number of moving parts, Aleksander Ford’s 1960 picture is certainly an experience. Epic in scope, scale and running time, unashamedly one-sided and tremendous fun at heart, it’s not hard to see why it became such a massive hit in Poland and the wider Soviet Union.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema blind_chance_1987_2

If we’re to take Camera Buff as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece, in the traditional sense—and we should; its earnest self-interrogation renders it as much of an artistic raison d’être as Andrei Rublev—then the opening movement of Blind Chance is the extraordinary effort of a master at work. His first theatrical feature shot in the wake of that film, albeit one delayed some six years due to censorship, this tremendous tripartite tale—tracing the life of the young student Witek across three alternate timelines in succession—uses an aesthetic and editorial approach in its founding moments to artfully establish a bedrock of political and public chaos to make maddeningly necessary the alternate existences he proceeds to explore. It’s not only for its most famous direct descendant that it might well be named Run Poland Run.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema ConstantFactor6

There are many things on display in Krzysztof Zanussi’s 1980 film The Constant Factor. It covers as much ground as confronting greed and corruption in the Polish workforce to youthful idealism to coping with the death of parents and the slow erosion of hope in the face of hopelessness.

The story centers on Witold (Tadeusz Bradecki), a 22 year old man who skips university after his military service in favor of working for a company as an electrician to save up money for university and for an expedition to the Himalayas. His father was a mountain climber who died there when Witold was only twelve and he wants to make the ascent himself either as a tribute to his father or to show that he can do what his father could not. He makes decent money and even gets to travel abroad to India and one other country (it isn’t said where, just ‘in the west’). He has a flair and love of mathematics and keeps promising his mother that he is thinking of going to university to pursue it, though he seems unwilling to take that step.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema kfoz

*Warning* Of necessity, this review contains spoilers about the plot of A Short Film About Killing. Since the film is less about the what and the who than the how and the why, I don’t feel that revealing the particulars will in any sense rob the reader of the enjoyment the film provides. *

What does it take to murder someone - to take a life in one’s hands and end it? Death at the movies is commonplace, de rigeur, yet mostly it occurs in passing, a plot point to be checked off and then discarded. Few films stop and consider the very human cost of killing, much less center around it. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Killing undertakes this task, telling in a focused way the story of one murder, from planning to execution to aftermath. The film’s casual title belies the intensity of focus and purpose that pulses through this taut, thought provoking exercise

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema ashes and diamonds_1-1

In constructing elaborate sets of ceilings and deep space, Wajda’s masterpiece, Ashes and Diamonds (1958) blends the acclaimed techniques of Orson Welles and Jean Renoir. Through deep focus cinematography, long takes, black and white photography, and key lighting, Wajda essentially fuses the formal designs of Citizen Kane (1941) and The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936). Taking note but not direction from these two inspirational filmmakers, Wajda constructs a truly new and generative image, forging a personal imprint—and auteur status—of his own. As a man of political conscience, he grapples with social and ethical dilemmas while at once dancing with artistry and narrative structure. While religion—Catholicism to be specific—plays a key role in the film’s backdrop, Ashes and Diamonds reaches far beyond the superficial discourse of religion and politics that often accompany a war drama. A film of spiritual integrity, it pleads to locate the human condition within an inhumane environment. Through evidentiary editing, Wajda’s formal rhetoric displays the aptitude of a great documentarian, and yet his sensitivity to human emotion lends itself to expressions of the metaphysical. A film worthy of praise for a number of different aspects, Ashes and Diamonds deserves its place in the highest echelons of classic filmmaking.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema jump_2-1

“The Man Who Fled to Earth” might be a suitable secondary title for Jump, Tadeusz Konwicki’s sophomore film in the directorial seat, a film far more conventional in the realm of screen storytelling than his poetically-pitched debut The Last Day of Summer (1958). Though that shouldn’t be taken to suggest that this is by any means a straightforward effort; Konwicki is a master of melding dream and reality, fusing fact and fantasy within the framework of his own fictionality in a manner that’s nothing if not self-reflexively mindful of its own meaning. That, much more patently than in the earlier film, is the war, a recurring concern of Konwicki that finds fascinating, if intermittently frustrating, examination here.