Gdynia Film Festival 2014 Day 3: The Citizen / Warsaw 44

Two Main Competition films that explore Poland's past: one treating it as picaresque comedy, the other as harrowing special effects spectacle.

As demonstrated by the recent success of films as diverse as In Darkness (2011), Aftermath (2012) and Ida (2013) (to name but three), Poland's turbulent and often traumatic history remains a topic of great concern for contemporary filmmakers. This interest is evident again in a large number of the films screening at Gdynia this year, of which Jerzy Stuhr's picaresque comedy, The Citizen (Obywatel), must rank as one of the most curious.

Stuhr's movie charts 60 years of Polish history from the '50s to the present, from the perspective of one Jan Bratek, a man who finds himself at the centre, or on the periphery, of various significant events. Bratek, it emerges, has occupied various roles in his life, from milkman to Solidarity hero, all the while nursing the hurt of an early lost love. (The lead role is shared by Stuhr and his son Maciej.)

Covering the crisis of 1968, the first free elections, and Poland's transformation into a "free" country, Bratek's experiences are presented in intriguingly non-linear flashbacks from the hospital bed where he ends up after being felled by a "Telewizja Polska" sign.

Stuhr's intention with The Citizen is surely to present Bratek as an "Everyman" figure representative of his generation, and to thereby probe Polish attitudes to Catholicism, Communism and (most problematically here) Jewishness through the years. However, the tone and the satirical targets of the movie sometimes seem muddled.

Though it entirely lacks that film's considerable emotional impact, the movie that The Citizen most recalls is Forrest Gump (1994). Like Hanks's iconic hero, Bratek is, to paraphrase Iris Murdoch, "an accidental man", and a momma's boy, to boot. And Stuhr's movie -- fitfully amusing but often equally irritating -- looks likely to spark almost as many contradictory readings, as many acclamations and denunciations from Left and Right, as Zemeckis's film did exactly 20 years ago.

Warsaw 44 (2014)

Destined to be more divisive still is Jan Komasa's extraordinary Warsaw 44 (Miasto 44) which dramatises the Warsaw Uprising in this, the 70th year since the outbreak of that doomed insurgency. It's an event depicted in numerous Polish films and documentaries, of course. But Komasa's approach is utterly distinctive, turning the experiences of a group of teenagers involved in the fighting into a staggering special effects-strewn spectacle.

Warsaw 44 is not a movie designed to inspire much reflection: rather, it seeks and gets a primal, bodily response from the viewer. Beginning in a relatively low-key realist mode, the film gradually shifts into a surreal phantasmagoria, with its hero and heroine practically becoming semi-mythical, symbolic beings by the end.

I was moved, gripped and often shaken by the film, even while being appalled by its strategies, which are sometimes those of a heart-pumping, rock-scored video game. (One sequence certainly takes the "Steven Spielberg Munich Prize" for most spectacularly inappropriate sex scene.)

There's no denying the distinctiveness of Komasa's vision here, and the impact of the film's expressionistic exploration of sacrifice and resilience, which is encapsulated in its indelible final image. You'll likely either adore it or abhor it, but, either way, Warsaw 44 is unmissable, provocative cinema.

* * *

Above image: The Citizen (2014)

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.