All posts by Marcin Marszalek

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.

Oh why do the Poles celebrate Vegetarian Day?

January 11 is Vegetarian Day in Poland. This creates a problem for those that want to honor it but are used to their beef and pork goł&#261bki. Polish cuisine is meat-oriented so what can we do with this problem? It seems that whatever we may eat, we’ll feel miserable. Hmmm… let’s eat misery!

There is a Polish side dish called mizeria (misery). It is a cucumber salad so it’s meatless and easy to prepare. But why is there a dish called misery anyway? Well, one story suggests that cucumbers were favorite of Queen Bona Sforza, wife of Sigismund I the Old. Since they were common in Italy, she would cry every time she saw cucumbers and hence the name of the dish. Since cucumbers were quite common in Poland since at least the middle ages, it suggests that the queen cried quite often. Poor thing.

To make the salad you’ll need:
1 cucumber
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or chive (not both)
1 or 2 tablespoon vinegar (optional, makes the author of this article miserable)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional and not for purists, the author of this article does not approve)
Lemon, (optional, the author of this article does not know, never tried it)
Slice cucumbers, add salt so it adheres to them, drain water, add sour cream and mix. Smacznego!

Kol&#281dnicy id&#261

In Poland, Christmas time is special and magical. There are myriads of customs and traditions associated with the time of year during which people celebrate the birth of Jesus. The most well known Polish traditions are the Pasterka and Wigilia. Pasterka, which could be literally translated as shepherdess but really means Shepherd’s Mass is celebrated at midnight Christmas Day. Wigilia, from Latin vigilare, means to watch, or wakefulness (and we also draw the English word vigil). Wigilia literally means eve in Polish and wieczerza wigilijna is the dinner enjoyed by the family after the first star appears on the firmament.

Another Christmas tradition celebrated to this day in Poland is Christmas caroling; kol&#281dowanie. The custom is celebrated between Christmas Day and Epiphany, i.e. January, 6th. During this time, the priest walks from one household to another with blessing and prayer. Children and teenagers also go around singing Christmas carols (and receive some money for it). People visit their friends and family and traditionally enter with a carol on their lips.

This tradition of kol&#281dowanie, evolved from an earlier, pagan-inspired holiday of Gody, or fertility. During winter solstice, the light defeats darkness (days become longer) thus people are optimistic, joyful, and full of hope. At this time, people would put hay under their tables (sounds familiar?) to foretell the future by pulling pieces of straw and appease the gods Siem and Rig&#322 who were gods of homes and fields respectively. (It is possible that this was in fact one god Siemrig&#322.) They also observed the weather over the 12 days to foretell the weather for the next 12 months.

The carolers (kol&#281dnicy) walked from house to house singing carols (kol&#281dy), which in this meaning refer to songs welcoming the new-year and wished health, benediction, good harvest etc. in the upcoming new year. When children spotted the carolers, they exclaimed: kol&#281dnicy id&#261!; the carolers are coming! The tradition of good wishing is known as winszowanie (literally, congratulate), and is done in rhyme and good cheer. It might go something like this:

Turo&#324 from the Folk Art Gallery

By the grace of our Lord May you have plenty,
In barn and in pantry,
May moles not dig up your field,
And bogeyman* in your dreams not be concealed
May you have sheep the size of horses,
And cows the size of elephants,
May you do nothing but eat, drink, and play,
But from time to time remember to pray
A coin from you, host, may we receive,
And in good cheer and happiness leave,
May God bless you.

(*note: what is translated as boogeyman, is in fact Bebok. In Polish folklore, likely inspired by a Slavic entity by the same name, Bebok (Babok, Bobok, or Bobo) was a demon that liked to make mischief, beat children and so forth. He could be appeased with gifts of food. Adults used him to scare their children if they misbehaved: “if you don’t behave, Bobok will take you”.)

This traditional troupe of carolers consisted of monsters (maszkary) and varied by region but some of the more recognizable characters are turo&#324 (auroch), wolf, bear, goat, horse, star-carrier (gwiazdorz), stork, policeman, soldier, chimneysweep, Gypsy, Jew, devil, death, and, of course, musicians.

All would dress up in their respective costumes but the person playing turo&#324 had a special role. Usually a nimble lad with a knack for tricks and pranks would be chosen and he would wear a sheepskin or an overcoat with fur lining to cover up as much of his body as possible including his head. He would carry a stick with a head of an auroch, usually made of wood so the large mouth could make noises when shut. He would sometimes be led by a chain by the leader of the troupe (star-carrier). Once the troupe entered a cottage, turo&#324 would play tricks, run around the cottage, dance, make animal noises, scare children and provide overall entertainment. An important part of the ritual was that at one point, turo&#324 fell on the floor as if dead and had to be revived, usually by massaging, magic incantations, pouring vodka into his snout, and burning hay. He would then revitalize and start his pranks again. This symbolized Slavic vegetative magic as earth was reborn and spring was heralded.