The creative juices of the Polish film industry have been stirred by the foreign-language film Oscar win of Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida” (pictured), as well as short doc nods for “Joanna” and “Our Curse.” As the Polish Film Institute caps its first decade of existence, it can speak of a measurable success in each of its initial goals: increasing domestic production, improving quality of the films and boosting box office sales for Polish films both at home and abroad.
With many eyes directed now at the Polish scene (as well as with many international producers seeking co-production opportunities), it’s becoming clear that there are strong new Polish voices to reckon with. Some, such as Malgorzata Szumowska (in her Silver Bear-winning “Body”) and Grzegorz Jaroszuk (in his quirky satire “Kebab & Horoscope”) prefer to deal with contemporary subjects, while others plunge head-first into Poland’s troubled 20th century history (Jan Komasa’s “Warsaw ’44,” a willfully Spielbergian epic of the failed anti-German uprising, being the best example).
It seems Poland may be in for yet another interesting year with several productions already drawing attention of audiences and festival programmers. Most of the anticipated films are highly idiosyncratic projects by young helmers, each asserting their own unique sensibility.
Especially notable are two parallel features by Kuba Czekaj, whose “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Room” has been one of the most praised shorts of 2009. Now, the 30-year-old Czekaj is finishing “The Erlprince,” a rumination on a young physics prodigy and his troubled relationship with his mother, and “Baby Bump” (which was selected for Venice’s Biennale College — Cinema last year and will premiere at the festival this year), in which he tackles the subject of puberty in a way both daring and imaginative.
Equally original is Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure,” described by its writer-director as “a musical horror story (about) two mermaids ending up in the midst of the vibrant, glittering, neon-lit world of Warsaw dance clubs of the 1980s.”
Marcin Wrona’s “Demon,” on the other hand, reworks an ancient Jewish legend of the undead spirit Dybbuk as a modern thriller of repressed trauma, starring Israeli actor Itay Tiran (“Lebanon”). .
Boldly plunging into philosophical horror is writer-director Adrian Panek in “The Wolfman,” a take on “Lord of the Flies”-like dynamics among a group of kids traumatized by war and fighting the titular creature in a post-Holocaust setting. “It’s a story of contamination by pure evil; of human form being lost and regained,” says the helmer, whose freshman feature “Daas” caused quite a stir in 2011 with its highly unorthodox depiction of Polish 18th century that was as visually arresting as it was narratively oblique.
The most intriguing project may be “A Singing Napkin,” an omnibus film made by Mariusz Grzegorzek, the current dean of Lodz Film School, as an experimental graduation project for the students of the school’s acting program. Four very different stories were developed by the students themselves, providing a great showcase for their acting talent. The final segment, loosely based on a Greek fairy tale that gives the film its title, is visually stunning and all but out-does Julie Taymor in inventive approach to art direction and costume. With all these and many more new titles nearing production or post-production (Bartosz Prokopowicz’s highly personal “Chemo” among them), it’s safe to say we may expect a steady festival presence from young Polish filmmakers in the year to come.
Michal Oleszczyk is the artistic director of Gdynia Film Festival. He also writes for RogerEbert.com, Cineaste and Slant Magazine.