Film: Hidden Treasures


Following the IFI’s recent Polish film season, Magdalena Puzmujźniak looks at some of the highlights of the event


Polish cinema has always reflected the progressive changes occurring in the country’s society. There are a great number of Polish films relating to a society in crisis, and Michal Oleszczyk presented a synthesis of these films in the Civility in Crisis series, which ran in the Irish Film Institute.

Four varied and quite outstanding films were selected, all entirely diverse in terms of genres, styles, compositions, and conventions. What was interesting about this very impressive selection was how it showed Polish society set within a historical context. In order to avoid censorship, films made in Poland before 1989 had to have a veiled intent – but these films are definite criticisms of social and political mechanisms, and importantly, critiques of Polish society writ large.

The Treasure (1948) focuses on a young couple as they try to acquire a house in ruined post-war Warsaw. Leonard Buczkowski’s film is propagandistic, however subtly, and entirely detached from the ideals of Stalinist-era filmmaking. This is the first Polish post-war comedy, and is worth watching on those grounds alone. It was shown with the short documentary film Warsaw ’56 (1956).

Marcel Lozinski, one of the most internationally acclaimed Polish documentary filmmakers, describes (with a grain of salt) the social reality in the mid-1970s. How To Live? (1977) is an ironic story of young married couples staying at a Union of Young Polish Socialists camp. The couples compete with one another over the title of “Exemplary Couple”. The film raises the theme of collective mentality and uses the poignant imagery of a penal camp adeptly.

A post-nuclear world is presented in Piotr Szulkin’s sci-fi movie. O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilisation (1984) focuses on a group of passive survivors who wait for the ‘Ark of Salvation’ to arrive and rescue them. The film thrillingly analyses civil mechanisms, but more importantly, also reflects on everyday life after martial law, which was enacted in Poland in 1981.

Zero (2009), Pawel Borowski’s extraordinary first film, which achieved significant critical acclaim, portrays 24 hours in the life of a nameless Polish city. The film is composed of a number of short stories about love, violence, betrayal, friendship, and forgiveness. The director introduces the audience to a disillusioned society, to an estranged Polish people who keep their distance from each other. Zero was screened with Zbigniew Rybczyński’s Tango (1982), which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Polish cinema may often be overlooked, but the IFI’s series has shown it for the innovative and socially relevant art that it is.