Polish School

   The eruption of artistic energy and the emergence of the new wave of filmmakers in Poland after 1956 is usually described as the Polish School phenomenon. The term "Polish School" was coined as early as 1954 by the film critic and scholar Aleksander Jackiewicz, who expressed his desire to see a Polish school of filmmaking worthy of the great tradition of Polish art. The disappointment with the Stalinist period, the urge to represent reality's complex nature, and the desire to confront issues that had been taboo in Polish political and cultural life created a stimulating atmosphere for a new generation of filmmakers, known as the "generation of Columbuses" (Kolumbowie). The political changes introduced after the Polish October of 1956 enabled young filmmakers to move away from socialist realist cinema and, to a large extent, to build their films around their own experiences. For inspiration they turned to works written after 1946 by their contemporaries—Jerzy Andrzejewski, Kazimierz Brandys, Bohdan Czeszko, Józef Hen, Marek Hłasko, and Jerzy Stefan Stawiński.
   The artistic formation known as the Polish School was open, multifaceted, and created by many authors (including directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, actors, composers, and set designers). Film historians often distinguish between the "romantic" tendency represented at its best in Andrzej Wajda's films Kanal (1957), Ashes and Diamonds (1958), and Lotna (1959); the "rationalistic" tendency embodied in Andrzej Munk's films Eroica (1958) and Bad Luck (1960); the "psychological-existential" trend present in the films of Wojciech J. Has, Stanisław Lenartowicz, and Jerzy Kawalerowicz; and the "plebeian" cinema of Kazimierz Kutz. However, unlike the tedious era of Stalinist cinema, the Polish School period is characterized by differing themes, incompatible poetics, edginess in terms of style and ideology, as well as sheer entertainment value. The multiplicity of aesthetic tendencies, the various authorial expressions, and the open character of the school make defining or summarizing it an arduous task. One has to take into account films set during or immediately after the war, which debate the Polish romantic mythology, and works that belong to different realms: historical epics such as The Teutonic Knights (1960, Aleksander Ford), comedy such as Ewa Wants to Sleep (1958, Tadeusz Chmielewski), war drama such as Free City (1958, Stanisław Różewicz), psychological drama such as The True End of the Great War (1957, Jerzy Kawalerowicz), metaphysical drama such as Mother Joan of the Angels (1961, Kawalerowicz), Holocaust drama such as White Bear (Biały niedźwiedź, 1959, Jerzy Zarzycki), "new wave experiments" such as The Last Day of Summer (1958, Tadeusz Konwicki), "Easterns" such as Rancho Texas (1959, Wadim Berestowski), and others.
   Starting in the mid-1950s, a split developed between young, emerging filmmakers trained at the Łódź Film School, who believed in a genuine depiction of vital national themes, and older filmmakers, including Aleksander Ford and Wanda Jakubowska, who opted for cinema imitating the Soviet epic models. The young filmmakers clearly favored the Italian neorealist approach, which offered them a chance to break with their predecessors and reflect the spirit of the de-Stalinization period. Neorealist influences are already discernible in some of the films made in 1954, including Kawalerowicz's A Night of Remembrance and Under the Phrygian Star, and in a group of films known in Poland as Black Realism.
   Realistic depictions of the post-Stalinist period did not constitute the main trend during the Polish School period. The primary concern remained history, World War II in particular. Wajda's A Generation (Pokolenie, 1955), which tells a coming-of-age story set during the war, heralded the Polish School and introduced new actors who were to become familiar faces of the Polish School cinema: Tadeusz Janczar, Zbigniew Cybulski, Tadeusz Łomnicki, and Roman Polański. Wajda, a proponent of the Polish romantic tradition, dealt with national history in his most important works made during the Polish School period. For example, his breakthrough film, Kanal, concerns the final stage of the Warsaw Uprising and narrates the story of a Home Army (AK) unit that manages to escape German troops via the the city sewers. The Warsaw Uprising is also the central focus of the first part of Munk's Eroica: Scherzo alla polacca, released eight months after Kanal.
   The discourse on recent Polish history permeates a number of other films made during the Polish School period. Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds and Kutz's Nobody Is Calling deal with the fate of the Home Army soldiers at a time when World War II was practically over but fighting continued between the Soviet-imposed Communists and the nationalist Home Army, the two warring factions in Poland. Both films explore similar themes yet present them in a disparate manner. Ashes and Diamonds is generally regarded as the climax of the Polish School. The film introduces another tragic romantic hero, Maciek (Cybulski), torn between duty to the national cause and the yearning for a normal life, a prisoner of a fate that he is powerless to escape. Unlike Wajda, Kutz portrays surviving heroes who give up their romantic gestures in films such as Nobody Is Calling. Although sometimes classified with Munk as representative of the demytholo-gizing trend in Polish cinema, Kutz focuses not on the national mythology but on the everyday and the plebeian.
   The themes of the war and the occupation reoccur in a number of films, not necessarily works entangled in the national debate about the Polish romantic legacy. Frequently, these are reconstructions of well-known military actions such as Lenartowicz's Pills for Aurelia (1958) and Jerzy Passendorfer's Answer to Violence (1958). The war also features prominently in the films directed by Witold LesiewiczThe Deserter (1958), First Year (1960), and April (1961). Common character-soldiers appear in The Artillery Sergeant Kaleń (1961), directed by Ewa and Czesław Petelski, which describes the bloody postwar conflict involving Ukrainian nationalists of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), remnants of the Polish underground fighting the Communist government, and regular Polish troops. A small group of works is also set at the outbreak of World War II, such as Leonard Buczkowski's The Submarine Eagle (1959), a film about the escape of an interned submarine; Różewicz's Free City, a story of the heroism of the Polish postal workers on the first day of war in Gdańsk (Danzig); and Wajda's Lotna, which stirred a heated national debate in Poland about the representation of the military effort in 1939. The war also serves as a point of departure for films focusing on the psychology of their characters. This is especially evident in some of the films of Różewicz (Three Women, 1957), Kawalerowicz (7he True End of the Great War, 1957), and Konwicki (7he Last Day of Summer, 1958, and All Souls' Day, 1961).
   To limit the Polish School to films dealing with World War II and realistic works portraying Poland during the de-Stalinization period is to neglect the most important aspect of the post-October cinema in Poland—its diversity. This period introduced animators who achieved international success in the world of animated films: Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica, among others. Children's films that also targeted adult audiences—such as Janusz Nasfeter's Small Dramas (1958) and Colored Stockings (1960)—received awards at international festivals. Also, the first films about the young generation that did not refer directly to politics or social problems were made, such as Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers (1960). The year 1960 marked the production of the first postwar historical epic, an adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's The Teutonic Knights by Ford. Another film, the absurdist Ewa Wants to Sleep by Chmielewski, belonged to the group of the most successful Polish postwar comedies.
   During the Polish School period, Kawalerowicz also produced two stylistically refined films: Night Train (aka Baltic Express, 1959) and, two years later, Mother Joan of the Angels. These two internationally known films received numerous awards, including a Silver Palm at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival for Mother Joan of the Angels. The first feature-length film by Polański, Knife in the Water (1962), offended political leaders and the film authorities because of its "cosmopolitan" and apolitical nature. The film's success in the West (including the first Polish nomination for an Academy Award in 1963) was treated with suspicion in Poland and only increased the hostility toward its maker.
   The Polish School began to lose its impetus at the beginning of the 1960s. Although political developments once again defined the Polish cinema, there were also nonpolitical contributions to this decline. In September 1961, Munk died tragically while making The Passenger. Polański migrated to France after making Knife in the Water, his only full-length film made in Poland. During the early 1960s, a group of young filmmakers emerged for whom the point of reference was no longer local history or other concerns associated with the Polish School. For example, the first films by Jerzy Skolimowski were similar to current international cinema and influenced by Skolimowski's own personal experiences. Several films made in the mid-1960s, however, returned to Polish history and the moral dilemmas of World War II. These films, including Konwicki's Somersault (1965), debunked the Polish war mythology and focused on the impossibility of freeing oneself from the shadow of the war, as in Has's Cyphers (1966) and Stanisław Jędrykas Return to Earth (1967). The main preoccupations of the Polish School also returned in some of the films made in the 1970s, for instance, in the film Hubal (1973) by Bohdan Poręba. The real end of the Polish School, and the farewell to its poetics, was probably marked by Wajda's The Ring with a Crowned Eagle (1992), a film that examined issues first explored in Ashes and Diamonds.
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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