by Rachel Goldstein
Polish cinema has long been criticized for disengaging from reality, but this year's Polish Film Festival proves otherwise. From Nov. 6 to 11, the festival will bring to town four full-length movies inspired by real events and contemporary conflicts. The festival will also feature two biographical films, a comedy-drama, and a thriller.
Why this shift towards reality? According to critics, Polish film directors have started reading newspapers.
Baby Blues, directed by Katarzyna Roslaniec, was inspired by an article in a popular Polish newspaper about a trend among very young women to have children for unconventional reasons. The director was further inspired by conversations with a teenager who, in search for someone to love, was caught up in the riptide of this wave.
To Kill a Beaver explores post-traumatic stress through the story of an ex-soldier (Eryk Lubos) who had been stationed in Afghanistan. Lubos, a distinguished actor in Polish cinema, portrays a man who must battle visions of his past only to find that his mind is deceiving him and that he is slowly losing control.
"We choose movies that will appeal to an American audience," says Bozena Sobolewska, the festival's organizer who travels to Poland each year to choose the latest offerings from the country's burgeoning film industry. This year's films are infused with powerfully universal themes. "They are set in the here-and-now," Sobolewska explains, "and they deal with real problems that people struggle with in modern society."
Imagine, featuring the English actor Edward Hogg, carries the audience to a clinic for the blind in Lisbon, Portugal where a new teacher named Ian helps his students re-imagine reality. Ian suggests that people "look, but they don't see." The story is based on the concept of echolocation, a process of identifying objects and their location based on how sounds bounce and reflect off of the environment. Film director Andrzej Jakimoski worked closely with echolocators, who 'see' and move through the world using sound and sense. "The film suggests that reality is maybe not what it looks like but what you imagine," says Sobolewska, "what you can see internally." Along with romance, the film captures the sounds and intricacies of human constructed everyday realities, challenging the audience to observe and listen ever more closely.
Opening the festival at Dryden Theatre will be the documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir. The film chronicles Polanski's life from his childhood in the Kraków ghetto and the production of his first films in Poland, to the triumphs of his Oscar winning film, The Pianist, and the tragic murder of his wife, Sharon Tate. The documentary weaves together excerpts from Polanski's films, news footage, conversations with the filmmaker, and photographs illustrating his unusual, rather extraordinary life.
On Thursday Nov. 7, the festival will screen The Closed Circuit, a political action movie based on a true story and set in contemporary Poland. Director Ryszard Bugajski and actress Maria Mamona will be two of the special guests visiting Rochester during the festival. They will be available after the screening for a question-and-answer session. Other visiting Polish guests include Kordian Piwowarski, writer and director of Baczynski, a biographical film about the legendary Warsaw Uprising soldier and poet Krzysztof Baczynski. Anna Piwowarska, who translated Baczynski's poetry, will also be available for a Q&A session after the screening.
The Rochester festival continues to grow through the support and sponsorship of the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, the Polish Film Institute, the Polish Filmmakers Association, the Little Theatre Film Society, and the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester. Films are shown with English subtitles and are screened at the Little Theatre, with the exception of opening night in Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House. Tickets for the Nov. 6 grand opening can be purchased at Dryden Theatre before the screening. For all other screenings, tickets can be purchased at the Little Theatre box office beginning on Oct. 15 and before the screenings. Tickets are $9 regular admission and $7 for students and seniors. Little Theatre Film Society members receive their membership discount. For details, contact the Skalny Center at 585.275.9898.
The festival schedule follows:
Wednesday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m.
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, 2011, 90 min.
Thursday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
The Closed Circuit, Układ Zamknięty, 2013, 100 min.
The Closed Circuit is a compelling political thriller about greed and corruption in contemporary Gdańsk, Poland. After being unfairly targeted by tax office and justice authorities, three Polish businessmen are imprisoned and lose their life's work. A fight to exonerate the men and defend freedom ensues. Following the screening, director Ryszard Bugajski and actress Maria Mamona will be available for a question-and-answer session.
Friday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.
The Easter Crumble, Mazurek, 2013, 30 min.
Urszula is preparing a traditional Easter breakfast to welcome her daughter's fiancé. When the couple arrives, Urszula finds that he is far different from what she expected. While breakfast turns into dinner and old grievances surface, Urszula begins to believe that it might be the worst day of her life.
Imagine, 2012, Poland-France-Portugal, 105 min, in English
Ian, a specialist in spatial orientation, arrives at a Lisbon clinic for the visually impaired to teach blind patients navigation skills. Blind himself, he teaches his students to move around without the use of canes, encouraging them to risk the unknown through greater awareness of the world around them.
Saturday, Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m.
My Father's Bike, Mój Rower, 2012, 90 min.
The film portrays complex relationships between three generations. The story begins when Włodek's 70-year-old wife unexpectedly leaves him for another man. His son and grandson arrive from abroad and set off on a journey to find a woman dear to each of them. Forced by circumstances, the three men must learn how to talk with one another, overcome the past, and eventually rediscover a long-lost bond.
Saturday, Nov. 9, 8:30 p.m.
Baczyński, 2013, 70 min.
This is a biographical film about the legendary poet, resistance fighter and Warsaw Uprising soldier Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński. It includes interviews with individuals who knew Baczyński personally, cinematic portrays of his life, and recordings of young poets in Warsaw giving contemporary interpretations of Baczyński's poetry. The film portrays the senselessness of war in contrast to the immortality and timelessness of art. A question-and-answer session with director Kordian Piwowarski and Anna Piwowarska, who translated the dialogues and Baczyński's poetry into English, will follow the screening.
Sunday, Nov. 10, 3 p.m.
Baby Blues, 2012, 100 min.
Natalia, a teenage mother in search of someone to love and to be loved by, copes with being a young mother while surrounded by the lures of youth culture. The film was made in response to a growing trend among young people around Europe and North America to have children for unconventional reasons.
Sunday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
The Hamster, Chomik, 2012, 30 min.
When Przemek the hamster, beloved pet of an elderly couple, tumbles out of a window, the hamster sets an avalanche of minor catastrophes in motion.
To Kill a Beaver, Zabić Bobra, 2012, 99 min.
An ex-soldier returns home from a mission in Afghanistan. Surrounded by hi-tech electronic equipment and untamed nature, he prepares for his next secret assignment. His house, however, has a new inhabitant, a teenage girl, who begins to interfere with the man's plans. As he battles visions of his past, he discovers that his mind is playing tricks on him and he slowly begins losing control.
Monday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
Vulture, Sęp, 2012, 132 min.
Suddenly, without a trace, people begin to disappear in the center of Europe. The investigation falls to Vulture, a police officer who appears to be devoid of feelings. He is tough, incorruptible, with no obligations and no attachments, at least until he meets Natasza. The Vulture begins his investigation, facing dangerous opponents who are always one step ahead. Walking the thin line between passion and reason, the world of logic and the world of illusion, he has to decide whether there is something more important than life itself.