Micro-seminars on polish cinema:
March 20, 17:00 – 19:00, Lögberg 101: The best of Kieslowski (plus screening of “Still Alive” – documentary film on Kieslowski)
Kieslowski’s films focus on universal issues. They are experienced in a similar way by everyone no matter where they come from. Love, death, jealousy, sadness, despair, the choice between good and evil – these are all human problems, dilemmas and feelings. As a result, everyone is able to understand and identify with these films and their subject matter is universal. The universality of philosophical and ethical themes is characteristic of most of Kieslowski’s films – especially the latter ones, beginning with The Decalogue. Kieślowski has said that his films are stories about people and are meant to make us better human beings. Kieślowski asked us questions, often without giving any answers. He wanted us to figure them out by ourselves. He said that asking questions is more important. That is why during intercultural discussions of his films, people tend to speak about universal issues. These films are treated as culturally significant texts, as a source of knowledge about man and his problems, about the mental state of all of us who happen to find ourselves in a difficult life situation, as for example life-threatening danger or the severing of interpersonal ties. Modern interpretations of the meanings of the decalogue show the timelessness and repetitive nature of certain matters and human behaviors, regardless of place and time. They portray them in a philosophical, psychological and sociological aspect as a more complete dialogue with modernity and the moral condition of modern man. This explains their importance and popularity in the world.
Several of Kieślowski’s films require an introduction and explanation before they are viewed. This is especially true of the politically engaged films from the late seventies and early eighties – Amator (Camera Buff) (1979), Przypadek (Blind Chance) (1981) and Bez Końca (No End) (1984). Students who are unfamiliar with modern Polish history may not understand the references to the events of June 1956 in the film Przypadek (Blind Chance) or allusions to events in March. The choice of Jerzy Radziwiłowicz as the main actor in Bez Końca (No End) is the key to interpreting the film. The meaning of this choice will be completely lost on a foreigner who is unfamiliar with the cultural and historical context of the film. Any such key information for understanding the film should be included in an introduction written especially for foreign students in mind. The review should include explanations of allusions and symbols, which the director used in the discourse with the audience in order to deceive the censors. This should not be a review which evaluates and recommends the film, but rather a kind of small reference guide which would explain concepts which are crucial to understand the themes of the film and the symbolic nuances contained in the script.
March 22, 17:00 – 19:00, Lögberg 101: Transformation in Poland after 1989 in Film (plus screening of “The Purimspiel”)
After 26 years of political and economic transformation in Poland, after its deep identity crises and a period of foreign (mostly American) influences, Polish cinema is rising. “Dług” (The Dept) and “Cześć Tereska” (Hi, Tereska), produced several years ago, were the first signs and symptoms of better times in the Polish movie industry. Later, the freshness of “Edi”, “Cud Purymowy” (Purispiel) and “Dzień świra” (The Day of Wacko) was a nice surprise. Recently “Dzień kobiet” (Woman’s Day), “Układ zamknięty” (Closed circuit) or “Drogówka” (Traffic Police) were highly talked about. After a period of pursuing the sensational and attempting to please mostly young mass consumers, Polish cinema found itself to be a part of the new reality at last. It observes it closely; it discovers pathologies of modern life and portrays individuals who an intelligent viewer can identify with. There are still many scenes full of vulgarity and violence but they seem to serve a different purpose than just glorifying violence and sex. New Polish films are reports and commentaries on what is happening around us. They ask difficult questions regarding our attitudes toward what we see and our reactions to the evil that surround us. This genre is similar to Italian neo-realism but it reflects Polish identity and describes Polish reality of the 21st century. Are we witnessing the birth of new “Polish school”? The analysis of the films produced by new wave directors entitles us to a positive response but we need to give a little more time to be able to use such definition consistently. However, even today we can make a safe statement that there is a definite new trend within modern Polish cinema. It deals with the shocking and pathological. The plot is most often based on facts and even if it’s not, it is so close to reality that we feel like we are witnessing events near us. These films are artistically and technically mature and they ask questions a lot of Poles prefer not to ask for many reasons. After all nobody likes to ask themselves why they are hypocrites, xenophobes or cowards; why they are insensitive to the needs of their next-door neighbor and their religiousness is reduced to a show-off on Sundays. These films perform a purifying function. They initiate wide debates in the media and small ones, but not less important ones, in our homes. They try to explain what the reasons of frustrations are and what is hard for Poles to accept. Maybe thanks to movies like “Cześć Tereska”, “Plac Zbawiciela” (Savior Square), “Baby blues” or “Sala samobójców” (Suicide Hall) there will be less human drama and the Poles will become better, more sensitive and more courageous in their fight with street or family violence.
Mirosław Jelonkiewicz is a lecturer at the Polonicum Centre of Polish Language and Culture at the University of Warsaw since 1974 and teaches Polish as a foreign language. Mr. Jelonkiewicz specializes in teaching Polish History and Culture through films. Over the last 25 years his articles on teaching culture have been published in Polish periodicals such as Polonicum Quaterly or Postscriptum. He has taught Polish Culture in over a dozen European universities as member of Erasmus program for teachers. In 1984-89 Mr Jelonkiewicz taught Polish at the University of New Delhi in India.