It’s Fat Thursday, Let’s Feast!

Courtesy of Eric Basile
Courtesy of Eric Basile

Tradition is sacred and who are we to disregard tradition? On Fat Thursday (T&#322usty Czwartek) the tradition dictates that we feast… on p&#261czki! Not that there needs to be a reason to eat p&#261czki but here are some interesting facts about the holiday.

Fat Thursday is a Christian feast celebrated last Thursday before Lent and since the latter marks a time of reflection, self-denial, penance, the next opportunity to feast will be Easter. That’s almost six weeks away!

In Poland, Fat Thursday is usually celebrated by eating p&#261czki or chrust (faworki, or simply; angel wings). This allowed the household to use up their stock of sugar, lard, fruit and eggs since those were forbidden during lent.

These days, p&#261czki are usually filled with rose or plum jam, and sometimes lemon, custard and other fruits covered with powdered sugar or icing. Yummy! (or if you prefer the Polish: mniam!).

For the meat lovers, it might be interesting that “back-in-the-day,” people filled p&#261czki with bacon, meat and fatback (s&#322onina) and chased them with vodka.

Krak&#243w celebrated Fat Thursday in their own way. According to folklore, there was a misogynist mayor in Krak&#243w named Comber (c=ts) who particularly mistreated (women) peddlers by beating them, swearing at them and even jailing them. When he died on Fat Thursday, people rejoiced, danced and drank saying Comber croaked: zdech&#322 Comber.

Since then, on Fat Thursday, women dressed-up (and were buzzed more often than not), entered town at dawn (buzzed at dawn?!) and carried a effigy (named Comber) representing a man. During the game, women jumped at the effigy and ripped it apart. Once they reached the main square, they chased bachelors and if they stopped a courtier in a carriage, he had to ransom himself. They demanded a kiss from the particularly handsome but the ugly and poor bachelors were tied to a large wooden block. After a few hours of hunting and torture, dancing and drinking began.

To approach p&#261czki from a different perspective: it is always wise to cut them. Why? Because in 1924, Polish mathematicians Alfred Tarski and Stefan Banach published a paper which proved that a 3-dimensional spherical object can be cut in such a way that it can be put back together to make TWO identical copies! Leave it to the Poles to create two p&#261czki out of one!

Time to feast.

21 Awesome Polish Films Made After 1987 Part 2

8. 80 Million (80 Milionów) 2011
Director: Waldemar Krzystek
Part heist thriller, part dark comedy, 80 Million is based on a true story of young Solidarity activists that decide to take out all the Solidarity’s money from a bank in Wrocław before the proclamation of Martial Law which would block the account. In other words, they steal their own money. Unlike many other films on our list, this one is delightfully light with an easy to follow good vs. evil story line. The Solidarity activists are noble freedom fighters and the security police is composed of inept officers. Throw some wily Catholic priests into the mix that work for the underground, and you’ve a movie that everyone can enjoy.

9. Three Colors 1993-1994
Director: Krzysztof Kie&#347lowski
Three Colors is actually a trilogy: Blue, White and Red. The colors represent the French flag as seen from left to right and the movies are loosely themed on the themes of the French Revolution, i.e. liberty, equality, fraternity but they go far beyond that. In the films, liberty is presented as an emotional freedom, not political or social. These films are hypnotic, challenge the imagination, the performances are brilliant, the music is nearly divine and the cinematography is absolutely incredible. It is quite possible Kie&#347lowski’s best work and is best seen and not read about.

10. Aftermath (Pokłosie) 2012
Director: Władysław Pasikowski
Aftermath is a Holocaust-themed thriller and drama, thus, another difficult yet incredible film. Inspired by (although not documenting) the events discussed in the 2001 book Neighbors by Jan Gross, it tells the story of Franciszek (who just returned from Chicago after living in emigration for some 20 years) and Józef Kalina who is shunned by the community for acquiring and displaying slabs of stone which were Jewish tombstones before the war. It is a strong drama which asks pertinent questions about history and about today’s world.

11. Pan Tadeusz 1999
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Based on the eponymous epic poem by Adam Mickiewicz it is a story of, passion, love, murder, guilt, exile, hidden identities, a family feud and perhaps most importantly, an incredible yearning patriotic yearning experienced by Poles living in exile after the 1830 insurrection. The plot of the poem can be interpreted in different ways but its setting in a manor house in Lithuania allows for beautiful imagery and the beautiful soundtrack by Wojciech Kilar (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Pianist) make this a great film to watch.

12. Big Animal (Duże Zwierzę) 2000 (yay, a comedy!)
Director: Jerzy Stuhr
One day, Zygmunt Sawicki (Stuhr) finds a camel in his garden. He is immediately drawn to the animal and adopts it. This creates a sensation in the small town where people at first find the exotic animal interesting but soon grow suspicious of the animal and slowly alienate Sawicki. The film, a modern fable, teaches the audience about individuality, loneliness and intolerance.

13. Popiełuszko: Freedom Is Within Us (Popiełuszko: Wolność jest w nas) 2009
Director: Rafał Wieczyński
A biographical drama about the life and work of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Catholic priest closely associated with the Solidarity union. He became a spiritual voice of the nation who interwove anti-Communist messages with spiritual exhortations. His critique of the system was not necessarily political or economic but humanitarian; he opposed the terror and intimidation practiced by the party.

14. Rose (Róża) 2011
Director: Wojciech Smarzowski
In a land devastated by war, Tadeusz visits Róża, a wife of a Wehrmacht soldier whose death he witnessed. She asks him to stay and the two (surprise) fall in love. The story is set against a background of postwar devastation where rule of law is non-existent and looting and rape are the order of the day. The story also deals with the tragic history of the Masurian people (never heard of them? Exactly).

21 Awesome Polish Films Made After 1987 Part 1

Martin Scorsese introduced his masterpieces of Polish cinema that tour the US with him. All the films on that list are incredible. After all, one of the most preeminent movie critics of our time handpicked them. However, the last film on that list was made in 1987 so we decided to offer a list of 21, perhaps not masterpieces, but awesome Polish films made since then.
A little disclaimer: this is a list of personal favorites that is not made by a film critic but by a historian and it reflects that. They are not high budget films with incredible special effects but they ask questions and can perhaps teach us something. We hope that you will find some of these films worth checking out!

1. Katyń (2007 Best Foreign Language Film Nominee)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
The film examines the murder of over 20,000 Polish officers, doctors, lawyers etc. in the forests of Katyń by the Soviet Union during World War II. It also explores the different ways people dealt with the tragedy and adopted to a new communist system after the war.

2. In Darkness (W Ciemności 2011) Best Foreign Language Film Nominee
Director: Agnieszka Holland
In Darkness is based on a true story of Leopold Socha, a sewage worker who hid Jews in the sewers of the city of Lwów during World War II. It tells the story of a change of heart as Leopold started helping the Jews for money and eventually continued to help them long after their money ran out and it had become ever more dangerous.

3. Ida (2013)
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
Taking place in 1962, the film is about two women. Anna is a young novice who is about to take her vows to become a nun but is sent by her Mother Superior to meet her only living relative; her aunt Wanda. Wanda is a communist state prosecutor who reveals to Anna her Jewish heritage and the two women explore their past and search for their personal and national identity. Shot in beautiful black and white the film is taking the world one prize at a time with wins at festivals in Gdynia, Warsaw, London and Toronto.

4. Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Double Life of Veronique is an art masterpiece. The film tells the story of Veronika and her double Veronique, who do not know each other yet their lives yet they share a mysterious bond that transcends language barriers. The camera work and usage of color filters gives the picture an incredible quality. The music, composed by Zbigniew Preisner, is hauntingly beautiful.

5. The Cathedral (2002 nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film)
Director: Tomek Bagiński
This is a short animated science fiction film that was nominated for an Oscar. Just watch it.

6. Time to Die (Pora umierać) 2007
Director: Dorota Kędzierzawska
Aniela grew up in interwar Poland and is now somewhat of a relic of a past long-gone. She lives in a large house that her nouveau-riche neighbors want to get from her by all means necessary with the help of her cold-hearted son. She decides to not give up so easily. The pictures are beautifully shot in black and white. Despite its reflection on old-age and loneliness, it makes you feel good without becoming banal. (Not the best trailer but the only one we found in English.)

7. Kiler (1997)
Director: Juliusz Machulski
To step away from the series themes for a bit, Kiler is a comedy that enjoyed tremendous domestic success. Jurek Kiler is a taxi driver who is mistaken for a notorious mercenary assassin by both the police and the mafia. He decides to play along and the hilarity ensues. Many phrases from the film entered into colloquial language and the success of the movie caused Hollywood to buy rights for it with the intention of adapting it for the American market but nothing came of it. Still, the film is well worth checking out even with the less-than-perfect translation.