Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at BFI Southbank‏

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at BFI Southbank‏

Throughout April and May BFI Southbank will host, in partnership with the KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival and Filmhouse Edinburgh, Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

Martin Scorsese said: “These are films that have great emotional and visual power. They are serious films that, with their depth, stand up to repeated viewings. The themes in these films will resonate, as they did profoundly for me… There are many revelations in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series, and whether you’re familiar with some of these films or not, it’s really an incredible opportunity to discover for yourself the great power of Polish cinema, on the big screen in brilliantly restored digital masters”.

At a time when Polish cinema is in the spotlight, with Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida taking home a slew of international awards in the past 12 months (including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film) this two month season of films, curated by Martin Scorsese and screening in pristine digital restorations, will focus on a period when Polish filmmakers shook off the creatively stifling policy of Socialist Realism (a social, political, and aesthetic principle enforced on art-forms by the pro-Soviet communist government) and produced a series of films which presented a remarkably clear-eyed vision of their country.

The season will include films such as Camouflage (1976) by Krzysztof Zanussi, who will also attend for a special Q&A to open the 13th KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1987) and Andrzej Wajda’s Palme d’Or winning Man of Iron (1981). A national tour of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, presented by Filmhouse Edinburgh, with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery will also continue at venues throughout the UK until the end of September.

From the late 50s onwards, Poland’s filmmakers explored their country’s war-torn landscapes, fantastical worlds of the imagination and the moral anxiety of existing within a corrupt Communist society that few Poles actively supported. A special talk Discovering the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema will see critic and filmmaker Kuba Mikurda sketch the historical contexts that inform the films in the season and examine the aesthetic, cultural and political concerns shared by the auteurs that made them. These auteurs include Krzysztof Zanussi, who was known for exploring the complexity of moral choices and metaphysical questions in everyday life; he did so to striking effect in Camouflage (1976), Illumination (1972) and The Constant Factor (1980). Following a screening of Camouflage on Wednesday 8 April, Zanussi will take to the BFI Southbank stage for an ‘In Conversation’ to mark the opening of the 13th KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival, while Zanussi will also introduce a screenings of The Constant Factor and Illumination the following evening.

Another filmmaker integral to this period in Polish cinema was Krzysztof Kieślowski, perhaps best known to British audiences for his Three Colours Trilogy (1993-94). Screening in the season will be Blind Chance (1981), which presents three separate storylines about a man trying to catch a train, and how such an ordinary incident could influence the rest of his life. Also screening the season is Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1987), which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988. This grimly confrontational study of the protracted process of ending someone’s life, whether through casual murder or meticulously planned execution, contributed to a national debate that ultimately ended capital punishment in Poland. The screening on Wednesday 15 April will be followed by a Q&A with screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz. The cinematographer on that film, Sławomir Idziak, is one of Europe’s most acclaimed in the field and he will take part in a BAFTA masterclass on Wednesday 15 April to discuss his career working with Polish directors Kieślowski, Wajda and Zanussi as well as his international work with Ridley Scott and Michael Winterbottom. Also appearing at BFI Southbank during the season will be the highly regarded cinematographer Witold Sobocinski, who supervised the restoration of the films he shot for this season (The Wedding and The Hourglass Sanatorium). Acclaimed for his sensitivity to rhythm and design, his filmography also includes work with Zanussi, Kawalerowicz and Polanski, and he will be joined onstage by his grandson, award-winning, third generation cinematographer, Piotr Sobocinski Jnr., to discuss the evolution of their craft in Poland and abroad.

Part one of the season also includes two films by Wojciech J Has – The Saragossa Manuscript (1964) and The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973). The former is a Napoleonic adventure crammed with duels and damsels, one of the great 1960s ‘head-trips’, and a favourite of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. The Hourglass Sanatorium meanwhile is a hallucinatory head-swiveller of a film, which follows a man visiting a mysterious sanatorium. Two contrasting films depicting relationships in April are The Last Day of Summer (1958) and To Kill This Love (1972). Already an important novelist, Tadeusz Konwicki made his directorial debut The Last Day of Summer on a tiny budget, with no script and a cast of two – a revolutionary approach at the time. Janusz Morgenstern’s To Kill This Love depicted the lives of two young lovers in early 70s Poland who find themselves constantly buffeted by official obstacles as they try and find a place to live. Completing the April programme will be Andrzej Munk’s Eroica (1957), a black comedy about WWII, Jump (1965) starring Zbigniew Cybulski, in a role many Poles consider his greatest, and Knights of the Black Cross (1960) a lavish widescreen epic set at the turn of the 15th century, which was one of Poland’s biggest hits.

As the season moves into May the significance of Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Kawalerowicz will be focused on. Five of Wajda’s films will be screened, including Ashes and Diamonds (1958), a complex, morally ambiguous masterpiece starring the ‘Polish James Dean’ Zbigniew Cybulski, and Wajda’s study of disaffected twenty-somethings Innocent Sorcerers (1960), for which he enlisted younger colleagues Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski. Also screening will be The Wedding (1972), which sees nineteenth-century Poland imagined as a grotesque and raucous wedding party, and The Promised Land (1974), a vivid portrait of ruthless entrepreneurs during Poland’s industrial revolution. The final film by Wajda to be screened will be his Palme d’Or winning Man of Iron (1981); this story of government-backed espionage was filmed against a real-life backdrop of the Polish Trade Union protests of 1980. There will also be a display of international posters for these films by Wajda; sourced from the archives of the Film Museum in Lódź, these posters will illustrate a wide range of graphic styles, showing the diverse priorities of different cultures and the compelling nature of poster art.

Four films by Jerzy Kawalerowicz will screen in May, beginning with Night Train (1959), a psychological thriller about the passengers on an overnight train, including a possible murderer. Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) is a drama about demonic possession in a convent, and although notionally based on the same historical events that inspired Ken Russell’s The Devils, Kawalerowicz’s treatment is subtler and more psychologically acute. Also showing will be Pharaoh (1965), one of Poland’s most expensive films, screening in its original full length form, having been heavily edited in the past. The final film by Kawalerowicz to screen will be his most personal project, Austeria (1982), a tale of anti-Semitic persecution during WWI.

The contribution of Wajda and Kawalerowicz to their national film culture went well beyond their own films. As the head of the Kadr Film Unit, Kawalerowicz also acted as producer on a number of Polish classics, while Wajda mentored numerous younger talents at a very early stage of their careers, including Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski and Agnieszka Holland, each of whom are represented in the season by a key early work. Polanski’s riveting first feature Knife in the Water (1961) was Poland’s first Oscar nominee, and established him as a world-class talent; Skolimowski’s Walkover (1965) starred the director himself as a washed-up amateur boxer who is distracted from his bouts when an old university friend re-enters his life; while Agnieszka Holland’s debut feature Provincial Actors (1978), an ensemble piece about warring actors, completes the programme.

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