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.