Gdynia Film Festival Day 1: Deluge Redivivus / Polish Shit

Love, war and other crap at the Gdynia Film Festival, Poland's largest and most prestigious showcase for its national cinema.

Founded in 1974 and now in its 39th year (two were lost to the imposition of martial law in the early '80s) the Gdynia Film Festival (15-20 September 2014) is the oldest and most prestigious event in the Polish film calendar, and one of the primary showcases for national cinema. (Recent winners include Agnieska Holland's In Darkness [2012] and, last year, Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida.)

The range of movies, events, exhibitions and workshops that the festival offers clearly plays a large part in that reputation, while its blissful location in the gorgeous Gdynia (the northern seaside locale that's part of the so-called "Tri-City", or "Trójmiasto", alongside Gdansk and Sopot) doesn't hurt, either. As a first-time attendee, I've been struck over the last couple of days by the festival's excellent organisation and welcoming atmosphere, and by the richness of its programming which offers a sometimes overwhelming choice of things to do and see.

This year, the festival boasts a new artistic director, Michał Oleszczyk who, along with his team, has fashioned a programme that includes not only the most significant new Polish films in the Main Competition, but also a range of other enticing strands: Pure Classics; Pre-War Cinema Treasures; HBO Film Nights (including screenings of The Normal Heart [2014] and Behind the Candelabra [2013]); a Young Cinema Competition; and the freshly-inaugurated Visions Apart, a similar proposition to Cannes's Un Certain Regard section which aims to showcase films of particular originality or stylistic freshness.

The festival opened on Monday night with the premiere of Deluge Redivivus (Potop Redivivus), Jerzy Hoffman's Oscar-nominated 1974 epic, which has been restored and reconstructed under Hoffman's supervision in order to give new life to the film and to help introduce it to a younger audience. (The original cut ran at five hours; the new one runs at just over three.)

Based on Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1886 novel, the film takes place during the 17thC Swedish invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and focuses on the exploits of a nobleman soldier, Andrzej Kmicic (played by Daniel Olbrychski in a star turn of swoonsome romantic glamour and sly humour), and his experiences in love and war.

Far from the worthy, dry experience that such a synopsis might suggest, Hoffman's film is, in fact, a rousing spectacle that's full of action and plentiful (often goofy and cartoonish) humour. If the cuts made in the new version result in some weird narrative leaps and blips (especially in the second half, where the indefatigable Kmicic now seemingly jumps from one near-death and miraculous resurrection to another in a matter of minutes), narrative incoherence is partially compensated for by the movie's beautiful restoration.

The images -- whether of costumes, actors' skin tones, or landscapes after battle -- have a wonderful vividness that seduces the viewer, while seeing the movie with such an enthusiastic Polish crowd (many of whom greeted individual lines and sequences with heartily affectionate applause) also added to the experience on Monday night. Hoffman, introducing the premiere, paid a touching tribute to the actors featured in the film who are now deceased but who, for tonight, are "living among us again, on the screen".

Polskie Gówno (2014)

The other film I saw on the first day was one of those featured in the Visions Apart section. Grzegorz Jankowski's evocatively titled Polish Shit (Polskie Gówno) is an irreverent, cheerfully scuzzy satirical musical comedy that follows the fortunes of a rock band, The Transistors, as they battle drink, drugs, financial woes and an inept Manager (played with considerable relish by the corpulent Grzegorz Halama).

As scattershot as its subjects, the film is sometimes clumsy in its construction, but it's good fun and, even after a gag misfires, it's not long before you hear yourself laughing out loud again. As such Polish Shit (the title gains in English, irresistibly bringing to mind the "you can't polish a turd" analogy) takes its place as Poland's answer to the likes of Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap (1984) and Aki Kaurismäki's Leningrad Cowboys films.

The movie's script is the work of Tymon Tymanski, the popular musician who takes the lead role as the band's singer Jerzy. Tymanski also wrote the songs, which include ditties about paedophile priests and a breathtakingly filthy and funny lament for lost years of Polish promiscuity. Best of the bunch is the ballad "Brothel for Dogs": surprisingly plangent, it sounds ripe for a Nick Cave cover.

* * *

Above: Still from Deluge Redivivus (1974)





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.