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 Kieślowski
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 Kieślowski’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).