Poland on screen

Cinematic treasures from the East at the Kinoteka festival.

For several years now, the Polish Cultural Institute has been making efforts to educate Britons about their (not so) distant European neighbour. In recent months, we've seen exhibitions from the artist Miroslaw Balka, reviewed here by Sue Hubbard, and a festival to celebrate Chopin's bicentenary.

Currently under way is Kinoteka, a festival of Polish film now in its eighth year. The two films I've seen so far are excellent (if very different) reasons to catch the rest of the festival, which finishes on 13 April.

The first is from the veteran director Andrzej Wajda. Sweet Rush centres on an adaptation of a novel about a doctor's wife post-war Poland, but it also features a secondary narrative in which the lead actress, Krystyna Jandar, recounts the death of her husband, the screenwriter and friend of Wajda, Edward Klosinski. The two storylines mingle in an unsettling fashion, Jandar's own grief chiming with that of the doctor's wife, whose two teenage sons died fighting in the Warsaw Uprising. My Polish correspondent tells me that Sweet Rush is partly Wajda's response to criticism that he had become too conservative a film-maker in recent years; Wajda's long career took off with a trilogy of war films in the 1950s that led to his acclaim as one of Europe's most important directors..

Snow White, Russian Red, is a quite different prospect. Based on a novel by Dorota Maslowska, a young literary star in Poland, it has been billed as "the Polish Trainspotting". But don't let that put you off -- while it does indeed feature a cast of disaffected, drug-taking working-class Poles, led by a wonderfully clownish skinhead nicknamed Silny ("hard-nut"), the film is shot in lively, anarchic style, with some great moments of physical comedy. The film is hard to categorise, as is Maslowska's original novel, which the director Xawery Zulaski, perhaps a little excitedly, compared to Joyce's Ulysses in the post-film Q&A. The plot loosely follows Silny's travails as he attempts to win back his girlfriend, giving viewers a tour of the confusing world that the post-Communist generation of Poles have inherited.

So there you have it: good, adventurous film-making -- and not a Danny Boyle in sight. Oh, and for those that dare, there's a Roman Polanski retrospective, too.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496