In the last 48 hours I have seen what is arguably the best of both contemporary and past Polish cinema, purely by coincidence.
Wednesday night was the Vancouver premiere of Ida at Vancity Theatre. Ida debuted last year at the Toronto International Film Festival to high acclaim, winning the FIPRESCI Special Presentation Award. It is a stunningly eloquent black & white film, shorter than most, set in rural Poland in the 1960’s. It is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Touching on themes of innocence, politics and religion, Ida tells the story of a young nun discovering her connection to the Holocaust. If the plot itself hadn’t been enough to win me over, I would have still been seduced by the thoughtful composition of each frame. Ida is a work of art.
I was equally as seduced by Ashes and Diamonds at the Cinematheque this evening. It is a film from 1958, directed by the epic Academy Award-winner, Andrzej Wajda. Ashes and Diamonds represents the first pick of Martin Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, playing at Cinematheque from now until the end of June. The screening featured refreshments, Polish treats and two separate introductions. It was sponsored by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Vancouver.
Ashes and Diamonds is a political film. It is a fictitious recounting of the immediate fighting that broke out between the Resistance and the Communists in Poland at the end of WWII. And a love story, of course.
I see a subtle, but distinct compositional thread in both films. The stylistic influence of Ashes and Diamonds in Ida is hard to overlook. Both directors employ a certain less-is-more approach. They both use light reflection and refraction in an imaginative, and almost playful way. The visuals are poetry.
I am considering these two films my new introduction to Polish cinema, a genre I am embarrassed to not know more about. I am additionally embarrassed by the realization of how long it has been since I saw a foreign film not in French. Reading subtitles is more strenuous than I remembered.
I invite you to take advantage of the Polish films currently playing at Vancity and Cinematheque. Enjoying Polish cinema is an exceptionally beautiful way of learning more about the history and ongoing legacy of Poland.