11th Polish Film Festival
May 2, 2015
By Ernest Barteldes
I am an occasional fan of Polish movies, and have been way before I even met Renata (most assume my interest is because of our relationship, but the fact is that I had been exposed to the music and cinema of Poland years before I met her), but for some reason I had never attended any of the 10 previous editions of the NY Polish Film Festival – something I remedied this year.
When I heard about the event , I invited a number of friends to go, but few responded. I looked up the schedule and found one by Jerzy Stuhr, a director whose career I have erratically followed since I saw his Love Stories (Historie miłosne, 1997), a clever film that he wrote, directed and starred in, playing four different characters who are given a life choice – and the consequences that come with those decisions.
I went alone on Saturday afternoon (Renata had another commitment at that time) to catch Stuhr’s latest film, “Citizen”(Obywatel), a satire about a man who grew up within the confines of the Polish communist government and then has a hard time adapting to the new reality, losing break after break until one unexpected turn comes around.
We see the story mostly through flashbacks – Sturh’s character has a debilitating accident early in the film and then we see his life all the way from his days as a young man (played by his son, Maciej) all the way to present time – and his current predicament.
I feel that Stuhr has a very similar style to that of Woody Allen – he takes current events in his country and builds highly personal stories. For instance, Sex Mission borrowed from Allen’s “The Sleeper” and then expands to something way deeper.
After a brief break that included Zwiec beer and some snacks, Renata and our friend David joined me for the next film, “Gods,” a story based on the true story of Zbigniew Religa (Tomasz Kot) the doctor who performed the first successful heart transplant in Poland.
The story follows Zeliga’s battle not only with authorities but also the frame of mind of the time – that the heart might be somehow a sentient organ, and that a transplant would at least be likened to stealing someone’s soul.
“Gods” was superbly acted and made, reflecting with accuracy the time but also the politics behind medical advancement in Poland during communism. No wonder the film was awarded Best Film at the end of the festival. In addition, Kot was deservedly awarded best actor for his amazing performance.