Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

October 8 - December 5, 2014

This series' films were recently digitally restored by Mr. Scorsese's Film Foundation. We are extremely excited about partnering with them and Milestone Film & Video in showing DCP editions of these rarely screened cinematic milestones. All screenings are free, unticketed, and open to the public. Screenings will take place Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30 in White Hall 208.


Ashes and DiamondsSet at the moment of Nazi Germany’s surrender, the magnetic Cybulski plays a Home Army soldier charged with assassinating a communist official in this, the third and most celebrated of Wajda’s “war trilogy.” Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Prize, it is one of series programmer Scorsese’s dozen all-time favorite films. More than any single post-war film, it announced that Poland could produce world-class cinema.

October 15th - EROICA/HEROISM

HeroismScriptwriter Stawinski—a sometime collaborator of director Andrzej Wajda—drew on his experiences during WWII, including his time in a German P.O.W. camp, when he wrote the two stories that make up this exploration of wartime “Heroism.” Director Munk originally filmed a more romanticized third tale but ultimately rejected it as out of place next to the bitter, ironic, tragicomic tone of the other two.

October 22nd - SALTO/JUMP

JumpSalto begins with actor Cybulski—who died two years after the film’s release when he accidently stepped off a train platform—crossing himself and leaping from a train. Arriving at a nameless village, he claims or re-claims an identity or maybe series of identities which the townspeople may or may not remember him by. They aren’t sure about him or, for that matter, about much else. Earlier in his career the still living novelist-screenwriter-director Konwicki (author of the screen-play to the haunting Mother Joan of the Angels) may have been linked to socialist realism but Salto reflects a modernist, surrealistic, absurdist tendency of its era.


Black Cross

This epic about the 15th century Polish-Lithuanian-Teu-tonic War that culminated in the Battle of Grunwald—one of the largest battles in medieval Europe that ended in the crushing defeat of the Teutonic Knights—is still the most viewed film in Polish cinema history. Adapted from the novel by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis), the film is often favorably compared to the other Western-made historical epics of the era such as Spartacus (1960) or El Cid (1961). A mega-hit in Poland itself, it was nearly as popular in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia and was the Polish Best Foreign Language Film submission at the Academy Awards. Even with a budget-busting 15,000 extras to costume and stage, the film was extra-ordinarily profitable. Kiev-born director Ford was one of the key figures in the rebuilding of a post-war Polish film industry and the establishing of the National Film School in Lodz (where he taught Roman Polanski.) Expelled from the Communist Party in 1968 for anti-socialist activity he emigrated to Israel and ultimately the U.S., where he committed suicide in 1980.

October 29th - FARAON/PHARAOH

PharaohThree years in production, Pharaoh was shot on location in Luxor, in the Kyzyl desert in Uzbekistan, on an artificial island in Poland outfitted in palms and lotus and in a studio in Lodz. Director Kawalerowicz (Mother Joan of the Angels) and novelist-filmmaker Tadeusz Konwicki (Salto) adapted their screenplay from Boleslaw Prus’ 1895 historical novel. For Konwicki, the novel “is above all a penetrating analysis of a system of power.” Director Kawalerowicz agreed: “the drama of power in (Prus’ book) is incredibly topical and contemporary. The mechanics don’t change all that much.” Even so, the filmmakers went to great lengths to be historically faithful. Noted Egyptology professor Kazimierz Michalowski was engaged as one of the film’s many consultants, as was Egyptian film director and costume designer Shadi Abdel Salam, who following production, would start working on Cleopatra.

November 5th - WESELE/WEDDING

WeddingPoland’s most celebrated director’s film of the nation’s single most important and culturally defining play.

Wajda’s masterpiece takes us to the very heart of Polish reality. At first glance, it deals with an atmosphere of happiness in which the camera participates without restraint. Like an invited guest it clings to dancers, gets drunk on folk music, cuts into conversation, highlights the replies, look closely at faces, and then rushes to dance again. Untiring, curious, mad, but hopelessly incisive. This is Poland exposed to its contradictions. —Image et Son, 1974


The Saragossa ManuscriptBased on Jan Potocki’s 1815 novel set in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars, Poland’s greatest cult film begins with a Belgian captain (Cybulski) discovering a bizarre book that launches an increasingly digressive, labyrin-thine narrative in which story spins off story, culmin-ating in what one commentator called ‘a cinematic moebius strip.’ Alternately compared to The Arabian Nights tales, Alice in Wonderland, Tristram Shandy and Jodorowsky’s El Topo, a shortened version premiered at the 1966 San Francisco Film Festival where Jerry Garcia fell in love with it. Decades later the Grateful Dead guitarist funded the Pacific Film Archives’ acquisition of a full-length print…which arrived too late for Garcia to ever see.


The IlluminationChild prodigy Zanussi was already teaching himself filmmaking while earning a PhD in physics and then a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The questioning protagonist in the director’s autobiographical third feature makes a similar journey. In this experimental film, Zanussi fractures his protagonist’s story by including such heterogeneous material as documentary footage, animation, interviews with real professors, behavioral studies statistics, medical diagrams and scientific graphs. Writer Michal Oleszczyk described Zanussi’s “most adventurous film” as “epic in scope yet extremely fragmented, it aims at nothing less than presenting an essence of a life while remaining as detached from it as possible.” Unanimous winner of the Locarno Film Festival’s top three prizes.


The Hourglass SanatoriumDirector Has (The Saragossa Manuscript) long claimed an affinity with avant-garde writer Bruno Schulz, most famous for his collection Street of Crocodiles, inspiration for the Brothers Quay’s 1986 animated film of the same name. Schulz was often compared to Kafka, whose The Trial he translated into Polish. Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, (1937) Schulz’ only other work published during his lifetime, was a series of stories about the narrator’s memories of his father and his life in Drohobycz’ Jewish quarter. In November of 1942, while outside that ghetto, the Jewish Schulz was shot to death by a Gestapo officer.


Blind ChanceThree times a student named Witek races for a train, each time opening up for himself a different fate. A “forking-path narrative” made seventeen years before the similarly constructed Run Lola Run and the Gwyneth Paltrow comedy Sliding Doors, it is ultimately a film about ethical choices. Shot in 1981, the year martial law was declared, it would not be permitted a public screening until 1987.

“Despite Kieslowski’s professed concern with Witek’s inner life, ‘Blind Chance’ strongly reflects the political climate of its time, with its grim interiors offering settings for long, futile, regretful conversations; the sinister Party culture exercising control through surveillance and harassment by thugs; and resistance achieved through religion, the “Flying Universities” and underground literature, while creating a fragile sense of community.” —Darrah O’Donoghue, Senses of Cinema


A Short Film about KillingA Short Film About Killing is an expanded, theatrical length edition of Part V of Kieslowski’s magnum opus, The Decalogue, a television series thematically built around each of the Ten Commandments. In it the one-time director of documentaries tells three intersecting stories about a young drifter, a taxi driver and a lawyer, linked together by a pair of killings. Cinematographer Idziak’s use of green filters and hand held camera gives Warsaw a raw, desolate, bombed out quality that further darkens this bleak film. Released during a cultural debate over the death penalty, it has been credited by some for Poland’s ultimate decision to abolish it. In a 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the ten best films of all time, it received votes from five directors from five different countries.