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Shivers (1981) directed by Wojciech Marczewski

Shivers (1981) directed by Wojciech Marczewski

Since I grew up in Poland, Polish cinema has always interested me. Especially movies from 1960s and 70s have this unforgettable style and choice of subject matter which focuses usually on just regular people trying to find their way in a totalitarian Communist society. The movies that I found the most fascinating are the ones that try to portrait a human condition, a state of mind, a straggle of choice. In this regard they are universal and, I believe, can speak to any audience that is patient and sensitive enough to understand this kind of cinema.

It has been said many times that Polish cinema, and in general cinema of Eastern Block, has developed a certain poetic style. The filmmakers focused often on poetic visual language, while the dialogue is not as important as it often is in the Western cinema. There are a few reasons why. Probably the most important one is the political censorship. Dialogues being the most direct forms of communication were immediately cut in the stage of script approval. The filmmakers therefore focused on imagery that was full of indirect messages understood by the audience but difficult to define by the censors.

Another interesting aspect of Polish films from that era are the characters presented – often they are just regular people. At the same time they were complex, full of ambiguities. It is in a contrast to one-dimensional super heroes often present the Western commercial movies. Was it an influence of socialist ideology that in its core focuses on society? That is probable. Also the type of literature that was popular then had a big impact here. But I think the most important reason was that filmmakers wanted to present reality as it is, to counter the official Communist propaganda. The characters were “taken” from real live. In that way the reality was defined. And that served as an expression of freedom. The audience understood that. These films were a proof that the truth can be photographed and described. And it was a crucial anti-force in a society where official reality forced people to live in almost a surreal state of being.

Another common thread in Polish cinema of that time was the ani-commercial character of it. There were no economic forces in the film production process that are present in the West. The funds came 100 percent from the state. Therefore there was no reason for a commercial success of the film. The filmmakers could focus on difficult subjects. At the same time I think that audience did expect that from the cinema. A pup-culture as we know it now was minimal then and cinema wasn’t really part of it. It served as a more sophisticated form of inspiration and education. As would literature and theater. The audience knew it and accepted it. Therefore these films were often well attended. Not that Polish filmmakers were totally free to do whatever they wanted. As mentioned before, censorship was the first big obstacle. Another was a very limited funds available. That also influenced their style. They needed to get it right in the first take, maybe second. But the film itself was very expensive so multiple takes were out of question. As any complex special effects.

To sum up, Polish filmmakers of that time created a poetic social cinema aiming to capture reality. I call it “A Neo-realism on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain”.

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