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100 Years of Polish Cinema

The charming concept (by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski) for this Polish entry into the British Film Institute's "100 Years of Cinema" series is to have "ordinary" cinemagoers talk about the films they have loved. This doesn't result in the history of one of Europe's richest cinemas, but it does provide some winning moments and evoke magical memories. Unfortunately, sloppy handling of the material drastically reduces the film's importance and interest.

The charming concept (by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski) for this Polish entry into the British Film Institute’s “100 Years of Cinema” series is to have “ordinary” cinemagoers talk about the films they have loved. This doesn’t result in the history of one of Europe’s richest cinemas, but it does provide some winning moments and evoke magical memories. Unfortunately, sloppy handling of the material drastically reduces the film’s importance and interest.

In a series of closeups, unidentified people of all ages talk to an unseen interviewer about what the cinema means to them. Elderly people, one age 100, talk emotionally about prewar films they loved, mostly romances and operettas, and the stars they adored. Unfortunately, director Pawel Lozinski doesn’t see fit to identify any of these films (which are named only in a final credit crawl that passes by too quickly to be comprehended).

The most basic requirement of this kind of film history is surely to identify the films being excerpted, with their dates of production and perhaps also the names of their directors. Not only is this not done, but the pre-1954 clips are screened in the widescreen ratio, resulting in distracting cropping.

As the onscreen cinemagoers get gradually younger, the films they talk about become more recent. The postwar flowering of Polish cinema is repped by “Kanal” (called “The Sewer” here) and “Ashes and Diamonds,” but the man who made them, Andrzej Wajda, isn’t mentioned. Nor is the Andrzek Munk classic “Bad Luck” identified. The gaps proliferate: no mention of Jerzy Kawalerowicz or his films, no mention of Roman Polanski and “Knife in the Water,” no mention of the trailblazing ’60s films of Jerzy Skolimowski.

There are scenes from Zanussi’s controversial “Camouflage,” “Days of Matthew” (called “The Life of Matthew” here) and two Kieslowski films, “Camera Buff” and “Blind Chance.” The “history” ends with a teenage girl explaining she’s bored by “serious” films and wants action she’s chosen a sub-Hollywood thriller with plenty of shooting and sex. Her taste no doubt accurately reflects that of the current generation and contrasts interestingly with the opinions of the film lovers who precede her.

As a history of Polish cinema this is a travesty; as a study of filmgoing tastes during this century it is consistently fascinating.

100 Years of Polish Cinema

(100 LAT W KINIE)

  • Production: (POLISH-BRITISH) A Film Studio Tor-TV Polska (Warsaw)/British Film Institute (London) co-production. Executive producers, Krzysztof Zanussi, Colin MacCabe. Produced by Maciej Pawlicki. Directed by Pawel Lozinski, based on an idea by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Arthur Reinhart; editor, Dorota Wardeszkiewicz; sound, Michal Zarnecki; assistant director, Krzysztof Wierzbicki. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Window on Images), Aug. 31, 1996. Running time: 62 MIN.
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