Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema Comes to TIFF
“This is a cinema of personal vision, social commitment and poetic responsibility from which we’ve all learned and which sets a high standard that, as a filmmaker, I strive to achieve with every film, every time out.” — Martin Scorsese
In December 2011, Martin Scorsese traveled to Poland to receive an honorary doctoral degree The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź. While there, he met with digital restoration expert Jędrzej Sabliński and the pair discussed the state of digital film restoration in Poland. Being a tireless advocate for film preservation and restoration, Scorsese wanted to know how his own organization, The Film Foundation, could help. The result of all that discussion was Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a touring retro of 21 Polish cinema touchstones that debuted this past February at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Now that retro has made its way to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, screening from June 5 to July 1, 2014.
Any discussion of Polish cinema (or any other Polish art) must begin with history. Poland has long been buffeted by the external force of history. After a period of brutal Nazi occupation in World War II, Poland found itself at the mercy of repressive Soviet domination. Politically, Poland was just another Soviet Satellite Republic and artistically bound by the censorious rules of heroic materialism. But Polish artists chaffed at these restrictions, as artists do, and the results are evident in the films included in Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. Though the series is somewhat limited in scope – the films cover a 30 year period from 1957 to 1987, with the bulk drawn from the late Fifties, early Sixties, and Seventies – the selections display a dazzling diversity in both themes and forms.
One might expect such a wide ranging retro to reveal a distinctly national cinematic sensibility, and Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema does that – to an extent. Not surprisingly given the political circumstances in which these films were made, one consistent theme emerges: an examination of the tensions between the desires of the individual and the demands of his or her greater social construct. As Polish filmmakers have generally been working in direct contradiction to soviet realism’s demands of individual submission to the greater good, it’s reasonable to expect those directors to land hard on the other side of the equation. But artist’s rarely deal in black and whites (despite the gorgeous black and white cinematography on display in many of this films), and this series presents a far more complicated examination of that theme. None of these directors are so naive to advocate that the individual has zero responsibility to wider society, especially in a political climate that forces these ideas out of the realm of academic speculation and into the real of practical, everyday reality.
All of this talk of Polish politics shouldn’t warn away ardent cinephiles, however. While a working of knowledge of Polish history might offer key insights into the films included in Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema there’s much cinema joy to be found without it as well. Filled with intelligent, sensitive filmmaking and some breathtaking imagery, these films offer conclusive proof that a vital and imaginative art such as cinema can – and most assuredly will – thrive, even in the most oppressive circumstances. Whether you’re familiar with some of these films and directors and looking to revisit them in a specific context or you’re completely new the varied, rich body of Polish cinema, this retro is a must see.
Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Thursday, June 5, 2014 with Krzysztof Zanussi’s Illumination at 6:30 pm and Camouflage at 8:45 pm. For complete information and to purchase tickets, visit tiff.net.
Director Krzysztof Zanussi will be in attendance to introduce The Constant Factor on Friday, June 13 at 8:45 pm and he will offer a special free talk on the current conflict in the Ukraine and its relation to European film and literature on Friday, June 13 at 12 pm.