FSLC Presents: “Transitions: Recent Polish Cinema”

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Published on September 12th, 2011 | by Carlos J. Segura

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“Transitions: Recent Polish Cinema” is being showcased at the Walter Reade Theater through September 15.

While New Yorkers wait out the remaining days left for the New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s latest showcase, “Transitions: Recent Polish Cinema,” which kicked off this past Friday and ends this Thursday, September 15, is worth checking out for the latest in Polish cinema’s most recent and notable filmmaking. However, while looking forward, the showcase also takes a sharp look back at Poland’s “James Dean,” Zbigniew Cybulski, with two digitally restored versions out of the Polish movie star’s filmography, which reveal a brisk productivity from his first films up until his death in 1967 from falling under a speeding train. Audiences who missed screenings of the films of Cybulski over the weekend (best known to world film aficionados from Andrzej Wajda’s “Ashes and Diamonds”) have another screening left to catch this Polish talent’s work on Wednesday with another screening of “Night Train,” where he plays a jealous lover after the woman he desires on a train; a bit on the flip side when placed side to side with his other film shown this past weekend, “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.”

“Goodbye Until Tomorrow,” which is both romantic while questioning the tenability of the romance it indulges in , finds Cybulski after yet another woman except she willingly accepts his advances, though, she has decided, contrary to his expectations, that the love affair can only last so long (the lady is clearly aware of the concept of limerence). All of this romance, and light philosophizing of romance, is dressed up in shades, Vidal Sassoon haircuts, sports cars and scored by one of Polanski’s once most famous contributors, the late Krzyszstof Komeda. Of note: Polanski himself makes a brief appearance towards the start of the film in a moment of comic relief as a tennis player who chats up the leading lady, Teresa Tuszynska, whose look immediately calls up Hepburn or Anna Karina to mind (the Karina comparison being especially appropriate since her character is French and much of the look of the film is patterned after something out of the French New Wave). If you couldn’t catch the film this past weekend its worth seeking if you can find it or keeping an eye out for it if you’re a Polanski or French New Wave style enthusiast (and of course if you care to see more of Cybulski after watching “Night Train”).

Some of the remainder of the films screening for the rest of the week, “Erratum,” “Black Thursday,” “Suicide Room,” “Mother Teresa of Cats,” “Out of Love,” “All That I Love,” and “Venice,” share filmmakers with an interests in plots that take a turn for the dark, save for perhaps “Venice,” which despite the World War II setting is about escaping it through magical-realism, and “Erratum,” which starts off tragic and exits on an uplifting note. The film’s protagonist, a well-to-do suit, is tasked with bringing his boss back his car, which requires a trip back to his hometown, only to accidentally run over a homeless man one night while in his boss’ car. While he waits for the car to be repaired he finds himself reconciling and reconnecting with his bitter, old father and a friend from the days of his youth when he aspired to be a musical artist rather than a corporate type; the film’s visual atmosphere suggests melancholy introversion through somber yet pretty shots and soft focuses, along with a soundtrack that could almost pass for Thomas Newman’s “American Beauty” score meets Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon” album.

Though, undoubtedly the big draw for those who skim the screenings list will be Sundance selection and Poland’s 2010 entry for Best Foreign Language Film, “All That I Love,” another film that might be worth your while, particularly if you find yourself impressed by lead actor Mateusz Kościukiewicz (a talent worth keeping tabs on), is “Mother Teresa of Cats.” The title of the film, plus its first half-hour or so, are extremely misleading, though both are neat and subtly tricky audience grabbers. While the way the film starts, and its title, suggest the film’s center of gravity to be the mother of the family in the film, and that the two brothers that kill her are perhaps the Papin sisters meet Norman Bates, the film very gradually reveals the motives of the brothers imply more than mother issues per se while giving way to a picture of the family as a whole. The film’s tone inches backwards from disturbing psychodrama to a very sad, family drama about folks that are victims of greater issues in the world and soon becomes victims of one another. The film rewinds over the course of 90 minutes to a little over a year before the murders happen and what is revealed is a family where the return of a father from war, combined with bad investments of his due to the recent calamities in the world financial market, cause a trickle-down effect within the family that leads to the family’s disrepair and to the eldest son (played by Kościukiewicz) gradually losing it, while negatively influencing his younger and very susceptible brother. Kościukiewicz’s performance, often volatile and frightening, is the main attraction of the film, which depends on his performance to show us both how someone’s psychological undoing can be both a question of nurture and nature (towards the end (beginning) we see that although he is still fairly good-natured that the capacity for hostility is there in key moments). Kościukiewicz’s performance and the film’s willingness to open up what could have been a personal, true crime story to the world’s problems at large, are both welcome surprises in this worthwhile Polish film showcase.

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