Comedy

   Polish cinema is not internationally known for comedies. The atmosphere of internationally known Polish films is usually serious, in keeping with the topics presented in these films: politics, social issues, and Polish history. However, Polish comedies have always been very popular among local audiences, and they are among the most popular Polish films. Very few of the feature films produced in Poland during the first twenty years of cinema can be classified as comedies, but the mid-1930s belonged to comedy. Polish popular cinema began to be controlled by people associated with Warsaw musical theaters and cabarets such as Qui pro Quo and the Old Band (Stara Banda). From that milieu came popular actors such as Adolf Dymsza and Eugeniusz Bodo; composers, including Henryk Wars; and directors, for example, Konrad Tom. By and large, Polish comedies employed the structure of musical theater, farce, and Viennese operetta, or they imitated German comedies. A typical unsophisticated narrative centered on two attractive lovers who, with the help of secondary characters (mostly played by comic actors), overcame difficulties and were united in the finale. Other types of narratives utilized the Cinderella story and cases of mistaken identity. The poor were disguised as the rich in His Excellency, the Shop Assistant (1933), and the rich were veiled as the poor in His Excellency, the Chauffeur (1935), both directed by Michał Waszyński and both starring Ina Benita and Bodo. The case of mistaken identity was also prominent in comedies about women masquerading as men, for example, Is Lucyna a Girl? (1934), directed by Juliusz Gardan, with Jadwiga Smosarska and Bodo in the leading roles.
   For many Polish viewers, Adolf Dymsza became the symbol of prewar Polish comedy. His Dodek, a streetwise Warsaw character, was the continuation of a characterization featured in Dymsza's earlier cabaret performances. Dymsza's best-known films, Antek, the Police Chief (1935), frequently voted the best prewar Polish comedy, and Dodek at the Front (1936), both directed by Michał Waszyński, mocked stock situations and characters from Polish patriotic pictures. The crowning achievement of prewar Polish musical comedy remains The Forgotten Melody (1938), directed by Konrad Tom and Jan Fethke, and remembered today in Poland for its musical pieces composed by Henryk Wars to the lyrics of Ludwik Starski. This well-executed comedy of errors featured an ensemble of popular actors, including Helena Grossówna, Aleksander Żabczyński, Antoni Fert-ner, Jadwiga Andrzejewska, Michał Znicz, and Stanisław Sielański.
   Comedies also proved popular after World War II. Leonard Bucz-kowski's unpretentious Treasure (1949) featured the topical Warsaw humor of prewar comedies coupled with postwar problems such as the lack of housing. In the highly politicized climate of postwar Poland, the audiences appreciated the fact that Treasure was deprived of explicit political references and portrayed conventional characters in stock situations played by actors who repeated their prewar typecasting (Adolf Dymsza and Ludwik Sempoliński). Another classic film, Ewa Wants to Sleep (1958) by Tadeusz Chmielewski, became the second successful Polish postwar comedy after Treasure. It offered absurdist humor and thinly veiled references to Polish reality. Similar references were present in Andrzej Munk's satire Bad Luck (1960), about an ambitious but hapless Polish everyman. Toward the end of the Polish School period, comedies began to play a more important role in Polish cinema. Between 1961 and 1965, 24 films were listed as comedies out of the 119 produced. This genre gained immediate prominence on television, as well. For example, The Cabaret of Elderly Gentlemen (Kabaret starszych panów), an elegant, absurdist, and sophisticated series, featured some of the best Polish actors: Wiesław Michnikowski, Mieczysław Czechowicz, Kalina Jędrusik, Wiesław Gołas, and Irena Kwiatkowska, among others.
   The majority of Polish comedies in the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s were highly didactic. Unable to laugh openly at political and social issues, these films portrayed a "wishful thinking" kind of reality. The film protagonists frequently travel to the West (a prospect unattainable for the majority of Poles), only to stress the Communist authorities' desired message that "there is nothing like home." Comedies ranged from situational, such as Hieronim Przybył's The Women's Republic (Rzeczpospolita babska, 1969) set during the postwar period and focusing on gender relations between male and female veterans who have settled on two neighboring farms, to satires, such as Andrzej Wajda's Hunting Flies (1969).
   The names of Tadeusz Chmielewski, Stanisław Bareja, and Sylwester Chęciński became synonymous with comedy, although these filmmakers were also working in other genres. Chmielewski continued his career with How I Started World War II (three parts, 1970) and I Hate Mondays (1971). Chęciński became very successful with his trilogy All among Ourselves (aka Our Folks, 1967), Big Deal (1974), and Love It or Leave It (1977), starring Wacław Kowalski and Władysław Hańcza as the heads of two quarreling families who fight, yet cannot live without each other. Bareja's bitter satires about the absurdity of Polish life under Communist rule brought him belated acclaim in post-1989 Poland. His What Will You Do with Me when You Catch Me (1978) and Teddy Bear (1981), with their portrayal of a surreal, kitschy, and ridiculous Communist reality, are now considered cult comedies by young viewers in particular. Among the many attempts at comedy, perhaps only The Cruise (1970), Marek Piwowski's bitter satire on the Communist rituals, achieved a similarly elevated status. Also very popular were comedies directed by two brothers: Andrzej Kondratiuk, the maker of How It Is Done (1973) and The Ascended (1973), both films featuring Jan Himilsbach and Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, and Janusz Kondratiuk, known for his television tragicomedies, made in the spirit of early Milos Forman films, such as Marriageable Girls (1972).
   The politically and economically difficult 1980s brought films by Juliusz Machulski, such as retro gangster comedy Vabank (Va banque, 1982), science fiction farce Sex Mission (1984), and gangster pastiche Deja Vu (1989). Machulski's popularity continued after the return of democracy with a gangster comedy starring Cezary Pazura, Kiler (1997). Personal, bitter comedies by Marek Koterski, such as Nothing Funny (1995) and particularly Day of the Wacko (2003), became popular and critically acclaimed in recent years.
   Jacek Bromski's Seen but Not Heard (1996) and Snug as a Bug in a Rug (1998) also belong to the most interesting new comedies. The list of contemporary comedies should also include Olaf Lubaszenko's popular crime comedies, such as Boys Don't Cry (2000) and The Morning of Coyote (2001).
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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