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.