Film

Night Trains, Cruises, and Camouflage - Kinoteka 2015 - The 13th Polish Film Festival, London

Alex Ramon
Night Train (1959)

Polish films old and new, lectures, concerts and exhibitions make up a varied programme of events at Kinoteka 2015.

Now in its 13th year, London’s Polish Film Festival, Kinoteka, returns to the capital at a moment when international interest in Polish cinema is particularly high, thanks mainly to the critical and commercial success of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, which was honoured first at Gdynia Film Festival back in 2013, then at TIFF and elsewhere, before its recent wins at this year’s BAFTA and Academy Award ceremonies.

At one point a while ago, Kinoteka’s future looked rather uncertain; this was due primarily to the loss of one of the festival’s main venues, Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, which is currently undergoing redevelopment. It’s pleasing to report, therefore, that the festival has actually returned in stronger shape than ever this year, partnering with Edinburgh Filmhouse and BFI Southbank for an extended, near-two month edition, one that supplements screenings of films old and new with a wide range of exhibitions, talks, workshops and concerts at various venues across the city and beyond.

Jump (Salto) (1965)

The centrepiece of this year’s festival is the UK tour of “Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema”: a selection of 24 features chosen by the director and being screened in delectable new digital restorations. The chosen films range from the late '50s to the late '80s, and while one might quibble with some major absences (Kanal and Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema, to name but two), the season nonetheless offers a solid selection of works both well- and lesser-known outside of Poland. I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to see Tadeusz Konwicki’s sublime Salto (Jump) on the big screen for the first time, and also to join large and enthusiastic audiences for screenings of Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s sleek and gripping Night Train, Andrzej Wajda’s still-searing Ashes and Diamonds and Wojciech Has’s ineffable trip The Saragossa Manuscript.

The festival’s selection of contemporary Polish cinema is meagre this year by comparison, with only a handful of new films screened. These were Krzysztof Zanussi’s Foreign Body, Krzysztof Skonieczny’s Hardkor Disko, Wojciech Smarzowski’s The Mighty Angel and Jerzy Stuhr’s Citizen (the latter two reviewed at last year’s Gdynia Film Festival). In addition, there was also the chance to catch this year’s two Oscar-nominated (and correspondingly humane and illness-themed) short films: Anna Kopacz’s excellent Joanna and Tomasz Śliwiński's Our Curse.

The absence of Jan Komasa’s visceral and highly divisive Warsaw 44 and of Grzegorz Jankowski’s gleefully scuzzy rock band comedy Polish Shit was disappointing, especially since neither movie looks likely to receive UK distribution any time soon. (Or probably ever.) But the opportunity to catch Foreign Body was appreciated, even if the movie turned out to be an initially intriguing but ultimately risible musing on Catholicism, corporatism and the spectre of past Communist crimes in “progress-oriented” contemporary Poland, featuring the crudest caricature of female corporate evil seen in many a year; it can’t be said to find its director at the peak of his abilities. (A seductive score by Zanussi's regular collaborator, the late Wojciech Kilar, turns out to be the movie's major asset.)

More rewarding by far was the chance to rediscover Zanussi’s earlier output, including Illumination and The Constant Factor, via the Scorsese strand. And it’s telling that the festival chose to screen the director’s 1977 Camouflage, rather than Foreign Body, as its Opening Night Gala, with the director in attendance for an informative and good-humoured Q&A chaired by Michael Brooke.

Camouflage (1977)

Camouflage, which is about to be released as part of Second Run’s latest Polish Cinema Classics DVD boxset, feels a whole lot fresher than Zanussi’s latest in its witty pitting of an idealistic young academic against a cynical and manipulative older colleague at a summer camp linguistics competition, an event that might just constitute (no surprises here) a synecdoche of sorts for wider Polish political power struggles and tensions, '70s-style. A key work in the so-called “Cinema of Moral Concern”, Camouflage is at once highly cerebral (there’s a lot of talk) and slyly sexy (the characters keep stripping off for their “extra-curricular” activities), and its primal underpinnings are drolly announced by a terrific animal imagery-heavy credit sequence. However, an audience member’s positing of a homoerotic reading of the central relationship was (no surprises here, either) wryly quashed by the director.

The Cruise (1970)

With such an abundance of events to chose from (including rare screenings of Pawlikowski docs and Wojciech Wiszniewski shorts, poster exhibitions, and an upcoming river boat excursion to accompany the Closing Night screening of Marek Piwowski’s 1970 The Cruise), a good way for both the neophyte and the knowledgeable to get their bearings was via critic/curator Kuba Mikurda’s illustrated lecture “Discovering the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema”, which took place at BFI Southbank on 14th April. Over 90 minutes, Mikurda sketched a highly entertaining and lucid, if necessarily partial narrative of Polish cinema, from the Film School period to the present, opening his presentation with trailers for four recent productions -- Malgorzata Szumowska's Body, Lukasz Barczyk’s Hiszpanka (Spanish Flu), and the aforementioned Ida and Warsaw 44 -- before doubling back to suggest how each of those films evokes, alludes to or contests particular earlier works.

Enriched by a superb selection of clips and newsreels, Mikurda’s talk then focused in on particular movements, trends, directors and stars (footage of crowds massing to mourn the death of “Poland’s James Dean” Zbigniew Cybulski in 1967 was particularly startling), as well as showing how Polish cinema engaged with historical and contemporary traumas in the face of censors who were good at spotting dissenting dialogue but often less adept at decoding ambiguous, subversive images. Mikurda’s lecture was complemented by the “Exploring Polish Cinema” course dedicated to specific filmmakers, including Michael Goddard’s presentation on Has, Konwicki and Andrzej Munk, César Ballester on Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Michał Oleszczyk’s incisive appraisal of Kawalerowicz, which preceded a screening of the director’s Oscar-nominated 1966 Egyptian epic Pharoah.

One would hope for the inclusion of a wider range of new films in next year’s festival and, in particular, of a greater number of works by female filmmakers. (Kopacz’s Joanna and Agnieszka Holland’s 1978 Provincial Actors are, shockingly, the only two films by women to feature in the entire festival this year.) But Kinoteka 2015 has been more about looking back than looking forward, testifying to the richness and diversity of Polish film production over the last 60 years, and highlighting just how much remains for British audiences to engage with and explore.

The festival continues in London until 29th May, while the “Martin Scorsese Present Masterpieces of Polish Cinema” strand is touring nationwide.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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