Polish Cinema

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Having introduced Cybulski and Olbrchski, Wajda would make two more remarkable introductions in the same film, Man of Marble (Czlowiek z marmaru, 1977): it was the big break for actress Krystyna Janda and it was also, along with Zanussi's Camouflage (Barwy ochronne, 1977), the work that formally started a movement known as the "cinema of moral concern" ("kino moralnego niepokoju"). The movement's aim was to undertake, in Frank Turaj's words, a "moral examination of modern Polish life and modern Polish history."

Man of Marble itself was a re-examination of the Stalinist cult of the shockworker. Using a narrative similar to Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), Man of Marble was told through a the eyes of Agnieszka (Janda), a young filmmaker researching a documentary on one of the idolized workers who mysteriously vanished. As well as investigating the uncomfortable truths of the 1950s, it also showed how they were still being covered up.

Janda would go on to star in a number of key films from the period, including Wajda's Without Anaesthetic (Bez znieczulenia, 1978), The Director (Dyrygent, 1980) and Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zeleza, 1981), the sequel to Man of Marble and the closing curtain on cinema of moral concern.

Man of Iron

When the dissident trade union movement Solidarity forced the government's hand with a series of strikes in 1980, there was a short liberal interlude early in the decade. Wajda, recognizing that it couldn't last, had to move quickly and Man of Iron was produced at Stakhanovite speed to capture the rise of Solidarity and, uncannily, predict its fall. Made so quickly, the film suffers aesthetically, but it nevertheless captures an important moment in history, with key players such as Solidarity leader and future president of the country Lech Walesa playing themselves. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and when it opened in Poland it quickly became, according to Turaj, the most popular Polish film of all time.

But within four months, it was off Polish cinema screens. Frightened of the liberal direction the country was taking and with Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 still worryingly fresh in memory, General Jarulzelski declared martial law in Poland and began rounding up Solidarity sympathizers. Public life was essentially halted and amongst the restrictions all cinemas were closed and all film production halted. A number of films were banned.

Wajda spent most of the rest of the 1980s working abroad, making films such as his French production Danton (1983), set in the aftermath of the French revolution but commonly seen as an allegory of the imposition of martial law in his home country.

In the 1990s, with communism gone, his films started to seem less and less relevant and critics had almost written him off when he made a comeback with Pan Tadeusz (1999), his adaptation of the classic lyric poem by Adam Mickiewicz. Once again, Polish audiences queued round the block to see a Wajda film that attempted to analyze Poland's perception of itself. Obviously pleased with this success, Wajda has since adapted another historic poem with his film Revenge (Zemsta, 2002).

Krzysztof Kieslowski

No other Polish director has been as loved and respected by international audiences as Kieslowski. His profoundly metaphysical and spiritual works from the late 1980s onwards have resonated throughout Europe and the world. All the more tragic, then, that the director should have died in 1996 at the age of 55 within a few years of achieving his widespread fame (although he had already announced his retirement from filmmaking). The Katowice Film School in his native Poland has since been named after him.

Even though many have seen his final, ambitious work, the Three Colors trilogy, as the crowning glory of his career, some critics (and especially Polish ones) see it as vapid and prefer his grittier early work that focuses on the lives of ordinary people.

After making some narrative shorts as part of his film school studies, Kieslowski started working in documentary in the late 1960s, moving on to make his own works in the field the following decade. He soon attracted attention for his ability to paint "a common portrait of our [Poland's] mental condition" (quoted in Marek Haltof's Krzysztof Kieslowski): small-scale corruption, bureaucracy and the weariness of everyday Poles as they try to battle life's problems and the system. In themselves, these were small films that looked at small themes in specific places. But they were also allegories of larger problems that affected the entire country.

Given this interest in allegory, perhaps it is understandable that Kieslowski should want to move to the broader canvas of narrative feature film. The transition was gradual, with enacted sequences first appearing in documentaries before moving on to narrative films that contained documentary elements. His first narrative feature was Personnel (Personel, 1975), a behind-the-scenes story of a naïve young apprentice working behind the scenes at an opera house who unexpectedly has to confront the ugliness of reality. But the film certainly didn't close Kieslowski's career in documentary and, although they came less and less regularly, he continued making documentaries until 1988.

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