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What to Expect When You Are Expecting Polish Days

Magnesia, dir. Maciej Bochniak
Polish Days 2020 Awards New visual identity and details about the combined 20. NH IFF and 11. AFF

It’s time to take a closer look at this year’s projects, completed films and works in progress. From Sweat, Magnus von Horn’s take on the loneliness of the fitness guru, to Balcony Movie. Step Into My Frame,in which Paweł Łoziński does what he likes best: talks to people about life.

With six completed films and eight works in progress, industry event Polish Days sets out to cover it all: complicated family dynamics, references to Rob Reiner’s Misery, heart-breaking real-life stories and the controversy surrounding a certain 1960s sex bomb.

But legendary actress Kalina Jędrusik will be just one of the strong women fighting for the life they chose to live, joined also by Sylwia (Magdalena Koleśnik) in Magnus von Horn’s already completed Sweat,recently granted the Cannes 2020 label and focusing on three days in the life of a popular fitness influencer. Emotional exhibitionists fascinate me, probably because I am on the opposite side of that spectrum. So, when I meet people who effortlessly and without shame express themselves, I feel envy – says the director about his protagonist, eager to share every thought with her many followers.

Further away from the gym, Magnesia by Maciek Bochniak will show Rose, who, following the death of the gang leader, seizes control of the criminal clan on the Polish-Soviet borderland in the late 1920s, together with her sisters. Magnesia is an attempt to face what I find most appealing about cinema; it’s travelling to another time dimension, blurring the borders between reality and fiction – says Bochniak, who previously dived right into the murky waters of popular dance music Disco Polo. Together with the co-author of the script, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, we began to work our ideas into the realities of the Second Polish Republic. We have succeeded in creating our own world, full of extraordinary heroes, their passions, brazen plans, dark interests as well as ordinary desires. A world we don’t want to leave – he says.

Still, reality creeps back in thanks to 25 Years of Innocence: based on real events, it sees Jan Holoubek telling the story of a man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, with Cold War’s Agata Kulesza cast as his protagonist’s mother. I believe that the relationship they have created on screen is pure and incredibly authentic – states the debuting director. This story shows that miracles do happen and that there are brave individuals out there who will make personal sacrifices in order to help you – says Holoubek.

In another debut, Dawid Nickelbrings back his own memories in Love Tasting, depicting the last week of school before the holidays. With high school students killing time at a pool, as if anticipating the emotional whirlwind they are about to experience. The action takes place somewhere in Poland, where ‘LGBT free zones’ are a reality in 2020. It’s a story about young people, their problems and romantic endeavours in the era of the Internet and social apps, when creating genuine relationships is unnaturally difficult – points out Nickel, while his colleague Grzegorz Zariczny will shows a real-life couple in Simple Things, living far from the city with their daughter. “We get to observe a young family and test it by introducing the character of Błażej’s uncle, the only professional actor in the film, who reminds him of his deceased father. In real life, a meeting between Błażej and his father would be impossible. Entering the realm of fiction opens up this possibility” – teases the helmer, who presented his first feature Waves in Karlovy Vary. Finally, Grzegorz Jaroszuk will explore similarly complex bonds in Dear Ones, as a father and his two estranged children come together after their mother goes missing. My film is about people who have to learn how to talk to each other. It resembles a thriller but without the bloodshed – he says.

Bypassing the limitations

In the Works in Progress section, Maciej Barczewski prepares to administer a knockout with The Champion: an incredible story of a Polish boxer who continued to fight also in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he arrived in June 1940 as part of the first mass transport. I read about sport in concentration camps on one of the online forums devoted to the history of the camp. It mentioned chess, football and boxing, which was the first discipline practiced there. And the first boxer from Auschwitz (later there were several dozen of them) was a Pole, Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski, marked with the camp number 77 – explains the director about the film produced by Krzysztof Szpetmański and Leszek Starzyński.

His story turned out to be unknown to a wider audience and, also due to the place and circumstances in which he had to fight, took on an almost symbolic, even mythical character. After all, [Polish writer] Tadeusz Borowski wrote about Pietrzykowski in one of his works: “There is still a memory of number 77, who used to fight Germans as he wanted, taking revenge in the ring for what others experienced on the battlefield.” I avoided clichés, such as slow-motion close-ups – the fights in The Champion are to be observed from the perspective of the viewers standing next to the ring, so that the experience of the film corresponds as closely as possible to that of direct witnesses of these events. Piotr Głowacki, who plays the main role, started preparing a year and a half before shooting. He lost over 20 kilos and mastered Pietrzykowski’s specific fighting style, which may seem unusual from a modern perspective. Even before the war, Teddy was called “the king of dodges” and thanks to his speed and technique he was able to defeat opponents that were several categories heavier – says Barczewski.

While Autumn Girl – produced by Renata Czarnkowska-Listoś and Maria Gołoś for RE Studio and described by director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz as “All That Jazz meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” – will depict Kalina Jędrusik, Polish actress and singer whose free spirit turned her into persona non grata in the 1960s. Where did the idea to talk about such controversial icon come from? This kind of person is asking for a movie!” – underlines Klimkiewicz. I just love Kalina, I made a movie that I think she would like to see about herself. She was ahead of her time, she was liberated and unpretentious, she influenced many women and today she is the idol of many of my friends. I made it for them, so that they would remember that it’s better to be immoral than stupidly unhappy – she says.

Prime Time wil show a man who… locks himself in a TV studio on the last day of 1999, taking hostages. When Kuba Piątek started to work on the script, he did extensive research on events related to his idea. It turned out that almost every country in the world, from USA to Poland or Burkina Faso, had a more or less successful coup of that kind. The stories are very different, as well as the motivations, but the common thing is that these people see an opportunity to settle their case on TV – says producer Jakub Razowski. Television of the 1990s was beautiful, colourful. We grew up with it and its impact was incomparably greater than today. Prime Time is by definition an actors’ film, as sticking to one space gives us the opportunity to work chronologically. We are only after five shooting days, but the shooting was preceded by very intense rehearsals. The genre of hostage films is often reduced to one space. In Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, it was a bank, in Reiner’s Misery it was one room. We believe that it can be a limitation, but bypassing the limitations allows us to come up with the most interesting solutions -says Razowski.

Imperfection of human perception

In a similarly claustrophobic, yet definitely more comedic Masters of the Planet by Piotr Chrzan – produced by Aleksandra Zakrzewska for Human Power – parents of the bride and groom-to-be get together in a summer house. Quickly discovering that, well, they are not married to their real soulmates after all and before you know it, new complications arise. The four characters are isolated from the outside world. Due to mounting tensions, the usual preparations for a wedding turn into a struggle for survival. It’s a film about the age-old inclination of Homo sapiens to be aggressive towards their own species – the filmmakers state. Family drama will also be present in Faithbreaker. Produced by Ewa Jastrzębska and Jerzy Kapuściński for Munk Studio – Polish Filmmakers Association, it sees a sick, retired schoolteacher asking her husband to come back home. Things get more complicated when their daughter arrives to take care of her mother and meets her childhood love once again.

In my film, I am talking about two days in the life of several characters who at first don’t seem to have much in common. As the plot unfolds, the threads begin to intertwine more and more, until we discover that the heroes guard a common secret – says director Piotr Złotorowicz. It’s a story about the imperfection of human perception. How hard it is to see things for what they really are. To emphasize the subject of the film, I decided to get as close as possible to the point of view of my characters. These are different points of view therefore, some scenes return, seen by the viewer for the second time from the perspective of another character – he says, adding that dreamlike scenes of the characters’ memories will bring the viewer even closer to the way they perceive their world.

Newcomer Ola Jankowska will also play with human memory in Anatomia, produced by Piotr Dzięcioł, Łukasz Dzięcioł for Opus Film and Edyta Janczak-Hiriart (Kometa Films) and showing a woman in her 30s, coming to visit her father after he suffers a serious brain injury. She hasn’t seen him for nearly 20 years, but after his accident, he doesn’t remember that time at all. Yet he does recognise his daughter. “Contrary to appearances, for me it’s not a film about family relations or a return to the past, but above all a story about struggles with identity and the question of what makes us and what makes “me” always “me” – says Jankowska. The heroine “travels” through her life, not to face some unfinished business, but to re-examine various elements that make up who she is. The camera is a narrator, leading the viewer through various layers of the story, not only telling him or her about the characters, but also leaving them space – she says.

Rounding up the selection, Sylwester Jakimow will brighten the mood with We’ll Be Fine, as three men in their 30s, childhood friends still living with their parents in blocks of flats on the outskirts of the town, face passing time. Just like we all, although to realise this fact sometimes one needs a balcony – as proven in Balcony Movie. Step Into My Frame, latest documentary offering by Paweł Łoziński. I stand with the camera on the balcony and do what I like most – I talk to people about life. Maybe you don’t have to run around the world to find interesting heroes? – wonders Łoziński, who used the “balcony” idea in his short Masks and People, made for HBO’s At Home series during the pandemic. I want to prove it’s enough to stay in one place and wait patiently for the world to come to me. And they do – young and old, poor and rich, happy and sad. They talk because they need to and I just happen to meet this need. They talk about what makes them happy or sad, how they cope with life. I believe that the road is a metaphor for life, and the story of passers-by under my balcony, which I have observed for a few years, will become a universal tale. During the pandemic, I listen to the sudden silence. I have a balcony, so here I am. I am among the people. Today, it’s a privilege. I observe a piece of the world in one frame and a particular time in which we all find ourselves. Under my balcony, however, the slowed-down life goes on. I still stand on it and talk to passers-by about life. I want to know how they are doing in times of plague – he says.

With films like these, chances are they will be doing just fine.

Marta Bałaga


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