A History of Polish Cinema

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Russian Poland

At the turn of the 20th century, Poland was partitioned among Austria, Prussia and Russia. Technically, it didn't exist. It had disappeared in 1772. Because Poland was both a utopia and a non-place, it is not a coincidence that it was chosen by Alfred Jarry as the setting for his play "Ubu Roi" (1894). Most of Poland was a fictitious "kingdom" ruled by the Russian czar, and Warszawa/ Warsaw was the Russian Empire's third-largest city after St Petersburg and Moscow. A southwest region around Lwow/ Lviv and Krakow (the so-called "Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria") belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and a northwest region around Poznan/ Posen was a province of Germany.

Secret societies and patriotic organisations proliferated and led to two crushed Polish insurrections: in 1830–1831, encouraged by the Greek independence movement, after which the Polish army was incorporated into the Russian army, the Polish parliament was dissolved and the Polish system of money, weights and measures was replaced by the Russian one; in 1863–1864, encouraged by the Italian independence movement, which resulted in the abolition of serfdom (more a punishment inflicted on the Polish ruling and intellectual class than a humanitarian gesture) and in Poland being renamed Privisilinsky Krai (Vistula Land) in 1888. By then the Russification of Poland was almost complete, with education now mandated in Russian, but this only increased Polish hostility towards Russia. For example in 1899 the Tajna Organizacja Nauczycielska (Society for National Education) or TON was formed to create secret schools in rural areas to teach Polish language and culture and by 1904 there were two hundred TON cells. A third insurrection started in 1905 as part of the first Russian revolution against the czar. Just like in Russia, Polish peasants and workers were suffering from an economic crisis and resented the war with Japan in which many Poles were forced to fight and died. However in Poland the revolution quickly mutated into another independence war, or at least in a violent protest against the russification of Polish culture and institutions. This 1905 insurrection laid bare a conflict between the two political parties that had been formed after the previous insurrection: the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party) or PPS, led by Jozef Pilsudski, and the Partia Narodowa-Democracja (National Democratic Party) or Endecja, led by Roman Dmowski. The PPS aimed for full Polish independence, whereas Endecja (which ran the TON) simply aimed for greater Polish representation in the Russian parliament. There were also countless spies who worked for the Okhrana, the secret police of czarist Russia, whose job was to infiltrate these revolutionary movements. The revolution started with a general workers strike in Lodz. When news arrived of the January massacre in St Petersburg, the strike took on a political connotation. In February university students joined the demonstrations to protest the use of Russian language. In June 1905 the Russian police fired on the workers of Lodz, and the protests turned violent. In 1906 the socialists started a campaign of guerrilla warfare (assassinations and robberies), largely staged by the Organizacja Bojowa Polskiej Partii Socjalistycznej (Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party) or OBPPS, Pilsudski's armed wing, originally established in 1904. In November 1906 the Russian governor, Georgi Skalon, declared martial law, and military rule lasted until 1909. The revolution failed largely as a result of the success of the Okhrana agents to infiltrate the socialist units, which were the ones behind the most spectacular attacks. Bitter disappointment turned into popular apathy and by the end of 1907 the revolution was basically over.

Nonetheless, the non-existent Polish nation boasted one of the most vibrant literary and musical scenes in the world. The great novels at the turn of the century include: Henryk Sienkiewicz's "Ogniem i Mieczem/ With Fire and Sword" (1884), Eliza Orzeszkowa's "Nad Niemnem/ On the Niemen" (1888), Boleslaw Prus' "Lalka/ Doll" (1890) and "Faraon/ Pharaoh" (1897), Karol Irzykowski's "Paluba/ Hag" (1903), Stefan Zeromski's "Popioly/ Ashes" (1904), Wladyslaw-Stanislaw Reymont's "Chlopi/ Peasants" (1909), Waclaw Berent's "Ozimina/ Winter Corn/ Grano d'Invenrno" (1911), Stanislaw-Ignacy Witkiewicz's "622 Upadki Bunga Czyli Demoniczna kobieta/ The 622 Demises of Bung or the Demonic Woman" (1911). Equally vibrant was Poland's poetry scene that produced collections such as Jan Kasprowicz's "Ginacemu Swiatu/ To a Dying World" (1901), Leopold Staff's "Sny o Potedze/ Dreams of Power" (1901), and especially Boleslaw Lesmian's "Sad Rozstajny/ Crossroads Orchard" (1912) and "Laka/ Meadow/ Prateria" (1920).

Important plays at the beginning of the 20th century include: Stanislaw Wyspianski's "Wesele/ Wedding/ Nozze" (1901) and Stanislaw Przybyszewski's "Snieg/ Snow" (1903).

These writers were lumped together with the "Mloda Polska" ("Young Poland") movement, mostly based in Krakow, which was generally influenced by Western European movements like symbolism, decadentism, impressionism, etc. Besides writers, the movement consisted of painters like Jacek Malczewski and Jozef Mehoffer, and composers like Karol Szymanowski, Poland's first great composer of the 20th century.

Early Polish cinema developed in Russian-occupied Poland. This area had a sizeable population of Jews (about 10% of the population). In fact, this are was a major centers of Yiddish culture, second only to the USA and Russia proper. Polish Jews were crucial for the development of Polish theater and cinema.

A Polish engineer, Kazimierz Proszynski, built a machine that could show moving images, the Pleograph, in 1895 at the same time as the Lumiere Brothers were inventing their Cinematograph. Other inventors who were experimenting with moving images were Piotr Lebiedzinski and Jan Szczepanik. In 1896 representatives of the Thomas Edison demonstrated the Kinetoscope n Warsaw and Kracow. The world's first theoretician of cinema may well have been Boleslaw Matuszewski, a Polish cinematographer who had worked for the czar of Russia before settling in Paris, and who published the essays "Une Nouvelle Source de l Histoire/ New Source of History" (1898) and "La Photographie Animee/ Animated Photography" (1898). The brothers Wladyslaw and Antoni Krzeminski set up the first chain of movie theaters, starting from Lodz in 1899, mainly showing French films. The owners of movie theaters created a demand for domestic production of films. Proszynski started his own production company and made two shorts: Powrot Birbanta/ The Return of a Merry Fellow (1902, lost) and Przygoda Dorozkarza/ The Cabman s Adventure (1902, lost), both starring actor Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski at the beginning of his career. A Jew named Mordechaj Towbin, who had founded a company named Sila and owned the Warsaw Theater, made Pruska Kultura/ Prussian Culture (1908), a historical drama about the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Austria-occupied western Poland (the oldest preserved Polish film). Towbin managed to make a patriotic Polish movie without offending the Russian authorities because he focused on two historical acts of resistance against the German occupiers: the strike of the children of Wrzesnia in 1901 and the protest of Michal Drzymala in 1908. The comedian Antoni Fertner created the character Antos that starred in a number of shorts and in Jerzy Meyer's Antos Pierwszyraz w Warszawie Antos for the First Time in Warsaw (1908), originally a 90-minute film, the film that jumpstarted domestic Polish production in earnest.

In 1911 Aleksander Hertz, a socialist Jewish banker who had been imprisoned for his involvement in the failed Russian revolution of 1905 (which had also spilled over in Russia-occupied Poland), established the film production company Sfinks in Warsaw. His company specialized in literary adaptations: Meir Ezofowicz (1911) from Eliza Orzeszkowa's novel, Dzieje Grzechu/ The Story of Sin (1911) from Stefan Zeromski's scandalous novel, directed by Antoni Bednarczyk, which should be the first Polish feature-length film, Sedziowie/ The Judges (1911) from Stanislaw Wyspianski's play, directed by Stanislaw Knake-Zawadzki, etc.

Meanwhile, Towbin's Sila adapted plays from theater. Towbin hired the young Jewish playwright Andrzej Marek (born Marek Arnshteyn), a pupil of Stanislaw Przybyszewski, to make adaptations of Yiddish plays such as Der Vilder Foter/ The Harsh Father (1911), from Zalmen Libin's play, starring the famous Yiddish actress Ester Rachel Kaminska, and Mirele Efros (1912), from Jacob Gordin's play, starring Ester's daughter Ida Kaminska. Sila shut down in 1912 but the following years its place was taken by Kosmofilm, founded by two Jewish businessmen, Samuel Ginzburg (a former partner of Towbin) and Henryk Finkelstein. Abraham Izaak Kaminski in person (Ester's husband and Ida's father) directed Yiddish films using actors from his own theater (including Ida), starting with Kara Boza/ The Punishment of God (1913) and Bigamistka (1913). But Kosmofilm also went beyond the Jewish audience with Halka/ Petticoat (1913), adapted from Stanislaw Moniuszko s opera and Karpaccy Gorale/ Carpathian Mountaineers (1915), adapted from Jozef Korzeniowski s play.

Warsaw was the main center of Yiddish cinema, which catered to ten million Jews living in Eastern Europe and the USA.

The first Polish magazines appeared, such as "Scena i Ekran/ Stage and Screen" (1913) and "Kino-teatr i Sport/ Cinematheatre and Sport" (1914).

The first movie star of Polish cinema was Pola Negri (born Apolonia Chalupiec), a former classical ballerina, who debuted in Niewolnica Zmyslow/ Slave of the Senses (1914), directed by Jan Pawlowski for Sfinks. In 1917 Ernst Lubitsch took her to Germany and from there she went to Hollywood where she became a star of the 1920s.

Poland also boasted the rare female director, Nina Niovilla (born Antonina Petrykiewicz), who made Tamara (1919).

Meanwhile, World War I had started, and for a few years Poland was a battlefield between Germany and Russia. There was more animosity directed against the Russians than against the Austrians and Germans, perhaps because the Poles were Catholic, the Russians were Orthodox. In 1915 the Germans "liberated" Warsaw from the Russians and the Poles celebrated with a multitude of anti-Russian events, included movies. Hertz's Sfinks, which had expanded after acquiring Kosmofilm in 1915, produced movies that exploited the anti-Russian sentiment such as Vitalis Korsak-Glogowski's Ochrana Warszawska i Jej Tajemnice/ The Secrets of the Warsaw Police (1916) and Carat i Jego Slugi/ The Tsarist Regime and its Servants (1917), and Stanislaw Jerzy Kozlowski's Carska Faworyta/ The Czar s Favourite (1918).

Incidentally, Poland was the homeland of future Hollywood moguls, and Hollywood has to thank the Russian occupation of Poland if these men moved out of Poland and eventually settled in California. Sam Goldwyn (a Jew born as Szmul Gelbfisz), the future founder of Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, left Russian Poland when he was a teenager and penniless. The Jewish shoemaker Benjamin Warner (born Wonsal) emigrated to North America when his three sons Albert (born Aaron), Sam (born Szmuel) and Harry (born Moses) were still toddlers and the fourth one, Jack (born Jacob), was not born yet. Those four toddlers later formed Warner Brothers.

Independent Poland

The post-war atmosphere was one of absolute chaos. At the end of World War I, Poland was formally independent, led by the former socialist revolutionary Jozef Pilsudski, but its borders were disputed and so Poland fought two more wars: one against the newly created state of Ukraine (1918-19) and one (from 1919 until 1921) against Bolshevik Russia, the future Soviet Union. Technically, Lithuania and Poland, both newly independent countries, were allied against Russia's Bolsheviks, but in 1920 Poland invaded Lithuania over Vilnius, the city surrendered by Germany to Poland that Lithuania considered as its capital and that the Bolsheviks had occupied: Vilnius switched rule seven times in two years between Poland, Lithuania and Russia (it would remain contested until 1939 when it was taken by the Soviet Union). Ukraine was another Polish ally in the war against the Bolsheviks, and contributed to Poland winning the war, but Poland (now run by Pilsudski's opponents) betrayed Ukraine at the peace negotiations of 1921 in Riga, that resulted in Poland gaining back some of the territories that it had lost in 1772, including Lviv. Ukraine was to be swallowed soon into the Soviet Union (Lviv would remain a Polish city, the third largest after Warsaw and Lodz, until 1939 when it was occupied by the Soviet Union). Poland was hardly a uniform country. Besides the various ethnic groups, there were coins from at least three countries (Austria, Germany and Russia) and even railway tracks of different size (the Russian regions had the standard Russian tracks which were wider than the Western European tracks).

Pilsudski was not only a Polish nationalist but also a European visionary. He saw how weak the small countries of eastern Europe were compared with the German Reich and the Soviet Union, and came up with the idea of creating a political union, the "Miedzymorze" ("Intermarium"), of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. De facto, this was an attempt to recreate the old Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 18th century that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and to the Adriatic Sea. Pilsudski even fought a brief war against Lithuania and conquered Vilnius, a city full of Poles (and Jews). The Treaty of Riga collapsed his dream. In 1922 Lenin's Soviet Union incorporated the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine. In the 1920s Poland was a country exhausted by warfare, and Pilsudski terminated Poland's young democracy when he seized power in a coup in 1926.

Independent Poland capitalized on pre-war intellectual fervor. Julian Tuwim's "Czyhanie na Boga/ Ambushing God" (1918) and "Sokrates Tanczacy/ Dancing Socrates" (1920), and Antoni Slonimski's "Droga na Wschod" (1924) continued the glorious poetry tradition. In 1919 Slonimski, Tuwim and Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz founded the poetry group Skamander that performed in the cabaret and theaters in Warsaw. During the 1920s Witkiewicz dominated Polish theater ("Kurka Wodna/ Water Hen", 1922; "Wariat i Zakonnica/ The Madman and the Nun", 1925; "Wariat i Zakonnica/ The Madman and the Nun", 1925).

In 1919 Juliusz Osterwa and Mieczyslaw Limanowski, founded the nomadic Teatru Reduta in Warsaw, which debuted with Stefan Zeromski s contemporary "Ponad Snieg Bielszym sie Stane/ Whiter than Snow shall I Be", followed by Franciszek Zablocki's 18th-century "Fircyk w Zalotach/ The Dandy s Courtship" Kazmierz Czyzowski's contemporary "Ulica Dziwna/ The Strange Street" and Kazmierz Przerwa-Tetmajer s contemporary "Judasz".

Ryszard Boleslawski (born Boleslaw Srzednicki) emigrated to the USA in 1922 and started in New York the first school to teach Stanislavski's "method acting" (in collaboration with Maria Ouspenskaya).

No less important than the theater was the cabaret. Warsaw's cultural life between the world wars largely revolved around cabarets such as Qui Pro Quo, opened in 1919 by Julian Tuwim and songwriter Marian Hemar (born Marian Hescheles), and Morskie Oko, operated by poet and songwriter Andrzej Wlast. Ditto for Krakow, where Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski, Jan August Kisielewski and Stanislaw Sieroslawski had opened in 1905 the Zielony Balonik (Green Balloon). These were "art" cabarets, catering mainly to the cultural elite. There were also several Yiddish-language cabarets in Warsaw, notably the "kabaret literacki" (literary cabarets), and the Yiddish poet Moyshe Broderson operated the Ararat in Lodz.

Polish Constructivism was born in 1923 when the painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski (who had lost an arm and a leg fighting in the Russian army during World War I) and the Lithuanian painter Vytautas Kairiukstis organized the Wystawe Nowej Sztuki (Exhibition of New Art) in Wilnie (Vilnius, at the time part of Poland). A few weeks later he moved to Warsaw with his Russian wife Katarzyna Kobro founded, where in 1924 they and Henryk Berlewi founded the Grupa Kubistow Konstruktywistow i Suprematystow "Blok" (the Blok Group of Cubists, Constructivists, and Suprematists) and published a magazine named Blok. Berlewi also published his essay "Mechano-Faktura" (1924). Blok evolved into Praesens (1926) and a.r. (1929). These collectives and their theoretical work raised a generation of Constructivist artists such as Henryk Stazewski (who followed them in Blok, Praesens and a.r.). Meanwhile Strzeminski elaborated his theory of "unism", originally applied to painting ("Unizm w Malarstwie/ Unism in Painting", 1927), but then expanded with Kobro to sculpture, architecture and typography ("Kompozycja Przestrzeni, Obliczenia Rytmu Czasoprzestrzennego / Composition of Space, Calculations of Space-Time Rhythm", 1932). Later he wrote a book titled "Teoria Widzenia/ A Theory of Vision" (1949, published in 1958).

Cinema, instead, was still tentative.

Hertz, scouting for a stage actress who could replace Pola Negri, launched another movie star, Jadwiga Smosarska, a Polish version of Lillian Gish, who was employed mainly in trivial love melodramas such as Jan Kucharski's Tajemnica Przystanku Tramwajowego/ The Mistery of the Tram Stop (1922) and Niewolnica Milosci/ Slave of Love (1923), or Edward Puchalski's O Czem sie Nie Mowi/ The Unspeakable (1924), peaking with Edward Puchalski's and Jozef Wegrzyn's blockbuster Tredowata/ The Leper (1926), adapted from Helena Mniszek s best-selling novel.

Patriotic, and especially anti-Russian, propaganda movies continued to thrive, such as Antoni Bednarczyk's Dla Ciebie Polsko/ For you Poland (1920), Ryszard Boleslawski's docudrama Cud and Wisla/ Miracle on the Vistula (1921), Edward Puchalski's Bartek Zwyciezca/ Bartek the Victor (1923), adaptated from Henryk Sienkiewicz s short story, Emil Chaberski's Iwonka (1925), starring Jadwiga Smosarska, Zbigniew Gniazdowski's Ziemia Obiecana/ The Promised Land (1927), an adaptation of Wladyslaw Reymont's novel, Leonard Buczkowski's Szalency/ Daredevils (1928), etc. They were mostly produced by Sfinks, which was successfully exporting them to Germany.

The one that stands out is Ryszard Ordynski's Mogila Nieznanego Zolnierza/ The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (1927), adaptated from Andrzej Strug s novel, notable also for its supernatural elements. It was the first movie produced by the Star-Film company established by Alfred Niemirski, a former business associated of Hertz. The same company presided over the biggest event of the 1920s: Ryszard Ordynski's Pan Tadeusz (1928), a lavish adaptation of Adam Mickiewicz's national epic poem "Pan Tadeusz" (1834).

In 1921 the actor Wiktor Bieganski established a school for theatre and film actors in Warsaw that evolved into the Film Institute. He adapted one of his plays in the blockbuster Wampiry Warszawy/ Vampires of Warsaw (1925), and directed the cabaret star Hanka Ordonowna in the comic short Orle/ The Little Eagle (1926), a widely publicized event. Far from being stuck to the atmosphere of the theater, Bieganski experimented with unusual locations, like the Belianske Tatras (Tatra Mountains) for Otchlan Pokuty/ The Abyss of Repentance (1922).

Poland didn't have yet a great filmmaker but had plenty of discussion about what artistic cinema should be. Influential critics were: the poet Antoni Slonimski, who during 1922-23 wrote the column "Kinematograph" in the newspaper Kurier Polski; Franciszek Zyndram-Mucha, who launched in 1923 the monthly magazine Film Polski; the literary critic Karol Irzykowski, who published the book "Dziesiata Muza/ The Tenth Muse" (1924); Leon Trystan, who advocated for French impressionist cinema (Louis Delluc, Jean Epstein) in "Kino Jako Muzyka Wzrokowa/ Cinema as Visual Music" (1925); and the art historian Stefania Zahorska, , who starting writing essays on cinema such as "Zagadnienia Formalne Filmu/ Film's Formal Issues" (1928),

The 1920s closed with Henryk Szaro's Mocny Czlowiek/ A Strong Man (1929), an adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Przybyszewski, perhaps the first Polish film of some artistic value.

Aleksander Hertz died in 1928 of tuberculosis (at the young age of 49) and Sfinks closed in 1936.

The difference between Soviet and Polish cinema couldn't be starker. While Soviet filmmakers indulged in futurist experiments, Polish filmmakers seemed shy to experiment with the new medium.


Poland was a dictatorship after 1926, but politics had little or no impact on culture. The novels of the period included: Zofia Nalkowska's "Choucas" (1927), Stanislaw-Ignacy Witkiewicz's "Nienasycenie/ Insatiability" (1930), Maria Dabrowska's "Noce i Dnie/ Nights and Days" (1934), Maria Kuncewicz's "Cudzoziemka/ The Stranger" (1936) and Leopold Buczkowski's "Wertepy/ Puppets" (1937). Two major talents emerged: Bruno Schulz, with "Sklepy Cynamonowe/ Cinnamon Shops/ The Street of Crocodiles" (1934) and "Sanatorium pod Klepsydra/ The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass" (1937), and Witold Gombrowicz, with "Ferdydurke" (1937). Lesmian still towered over Polish poets ("Napoj Cienisty/ Shadowy Drink/ Bevanda Ombrosa", 1936; "Dziejba Lesna/ Forest Happenings", 1937), but a new giant emerged in the 1930s: Czeslaw Milosz, whose "Trzy Zimy/ Three Winters" (1936) was a milestone collection. Other important poetry books of the prewar time were Kazimierz Wierzynski's "Laur Olimpijski" (1927) and Maria Pawlikowska's "Krystalizacje/ Cristallizations" (1937).

Leon Schiller, director of Warsaw's Teatr Polski (Polish Theatre), used a theater in Lviv to experiment with "monumental" productions devoted to romantic works of exactly a century earlier, such as Adam Mickiewicz's "Dziady" (1832) and Juliusz Slowacki's "Kordyan" (1834).

Painter and playwright Jozef Jarema, who had been active in the Kapizm movement of painting, opened in 1933 in Krakow the Cricot Theater, gathering fellow writers and artists from Krakow's Academy of Fine Arts (where Kapizm had developed in the first place). The theater was modeled after the eccentric performances of Krakow's most famous cabaret, the Zielony Balonik.

During this time, Karol Szymanowski composed two of his most important works, "Symphony 4 Concertante" (1932) and "Violin Concerto 2" (1933).

Polish cinema acquired sound in this political and cultural environment. Incidentally, the world's first talkie, The Jazz Singer, had been released in 1927 by a Hollywood studio founded and owned by four Polish brothers: Warner Brothers. In Poland it took a few more years. Ryszard Ordynski's Tajemnica Lekarza/ The Mystery of the Doctor (1930) and Henryk Szaro's Na Sybir/ To Siberia (1930), starring Smosarska and yet another anti-Russian concept, were two of the early films that experimented with sound (the latter with music by Henryk Wars). Neither is truly a sound film. The technology was too expensive for Polish studios. Another quasi-talkie, Boleslaw Newolin's Moralnosc Pani Dulskiej/ The Morality of Mrs Dulska (1930), adapted from Gabriela Zapolska's play, starred Marta Flantz, who didn't even speak Polish (so she had to be dubbed), and launched the film career of the cabaret performer Adolf Dymsza (born Adolf Baginski), the most popular comedian of the era.

The arrival of sound turned comedy into the main cinematic genre. Poland's most prolific director of comedies of the 1930s were Mieczyslaw Krawicz and Michal Waszynski (a Jew born Mosze Waks who changed name when he converted to Catholicism). Krawicz and Janusz Warnecki directed the first film that can truly be called a "talkie", replete with songs, and perhaps the first real comedy of Polish cinema: Kazdemu Wolno Kochac/ Anybody can Love (1933).

Waszynski, a former assistant director of F.W. Murnau in Germany, directed Dymsza in Sto Metrow Milosci/ One Hundred Meters of Love (1932), a film which also starred the husband-and-wife cabaret duo of Zula Pogorzelska and Konrad Tom (a Jew born Konrad Runowiecki), directed the popular actor and singer Eugeniusz Bodo (born Bohdan Junod) in Jego Ekscelencja Subiekt/ His Excellency the Shop Assistant (1933), and directed the duo of Kazimierz "Szczepko" Wajda and Henryk "Tonko" Vogelfanger, made popular by a radio show, in Wloczegi/ The Vagabonds (1939).

Krawicz directed super-star Jadwiga Smosarska in comedies such as Dwie Joasie/ Two Joans (1935), Jadzia (1936), and Sklamalam/ I lied (1937), also starring Eugeniusz Bodo, and at the end of the decade he directed the trio of stars Helena Grossowna, Bodo and Dymsza in the classic Pawel i Gawel (1938).

Juliusz Gardan directed Smosarska and Bodo in the comedy Czy Lucyna to Dziewczyna/ Is Lucy a Girl (1934).

The musical comedy also prospered with sound. Leon Trystan directed the musical comedy Pietro Wyzej/ Neighbors (1937), a vehicle for Eugeniusz Bodo, with music by Henryk Wars, and Bodo (born Bohdan Junod) directed in person Krolowa Przedmiescia (1938), with music by both Wars and bestselling songwriter Jerzy Peterburski.

Jidl mit n Fidl/ Judel gra na Skrzypcach/ Judel Plays the Violin (1936), directed by Jozef Green (a Jew born Jozef Grinberg) and Jan Nowina-Przybylski, and starring the Jewish diva Molly Picon (born Malka Piekun), was the best of the Yiddish-language musical comedies.

Waszynski also directed two films produced by the Warszawskie Biuro Kinematograficzne Feniks (owned by Fejga and Leon Fenikstein): Znachor/ The Healer (1937), starring the famous theatrical actor Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski, adapted from Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz's novel with music by Henryk Wars, and Der Dibuk/ The Dybbuk/ Between Two Worlds (1937) in Yiddish, adapting Solomon Anski's Yiddish play (1863), a rare document about the lives and traditions of Polish Jews.

Juliusz Gardan (born Juliusz Gradstein) directed Policmajster Tagiejew/ The Police Chief Tagiejew (1927), a German-influenced kammerspiel also notable for its "female" origins: it was based on the novel of female writer Gabriela Zapolska, it launched the career of "femme fatale" Nora Ney, and was produced by a studio, Leo Film, owned by a Jewish woman, Maria Hirszbein, and soon to become Sfinks' main competitor.

Gardan, in general, specialized in melodramas such as Wyrok Zycia/ Life Sentence (1933) and Wrzos/ Heather (1938), adapted from Maria Rodziewiczowna's novel and scored by Wladyslaw Szpilman.

The most famous melodrama of the decade was perhaps Jan Nowina-Przybylski's Cham/ The Boor (1931), a very loose adaptation of Eliza Orzeszkowa's novel.

Jozef Lejtes, Poland's first major filmmaker (of Jewish origin), made yet another patriotic historical movie, Huragan/ Hurricane (1928), whose story is told via tableaux, yet another anti-Russian film, Mlody Las/ The Young Forest (1934), that began his collaboration with composers Roman Palester and Marian Neuteich, the historical costume drama Barbara Radziwillowna/ Love or a Kingdom (1936), starring Smosarska and scored by Jan Maklakiewicz, Roza/ The Rose (1936), adapted from a play by Stefan Zeromski, one of Lejtes' experiments with "visual poetry", scored by Palester and Neuteich, the realistic melodrama Dziewczeta z Nowolipek/ Girls from Nowolipki (1937), adapted from Pola Gojawiczynska's novel that follows four poor girls, scored again by Palester and Neuteich, and the psychological drama Granica/ Border (1938), adapted from Zofia Nalkowska's novel, about the fall of a cynical man, scored by Neuteich alone. The latter two films starred some of Poland's greatest actresses: Elzbieta Barszczewska in both plus Jadwiga Andrzejewska, Tamara Wiszniewska and Anna Jaraczowna in Girls from Nowolipki and Lena Zelichowska and Mieczyslawa Cwiklinska in Border.

Henryk Szaro s Ordynat Michorowski/ Count Michorowski (1937) was adapted too from Helena Mniszek, whereas Michal Waszynski adapted a trilogy by Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz, starting with Znachor/ The Witch-doctor (1937). Szaro (a Jew born born Henoch Szapiro), a former student of Vsevolod Meyerhold, also directed the Faustian fable Pan Twardowski (1936), written by the poet Anatol Stern based on a medieval Polish legend, starring Franciszek Brodniewicz and scored by Jan Maklakiewicz.

Marta Flantz became Poland's second female director after Nina Niovilla when she helmed Kochaj Tylko Mnie/ Love only me (1935), starring two famous actors, Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski and Helena Grossowna, and launching a 19-year-old Lidia Wysocka, who was still a student.

More essays were published on cinema, such as Boleslaw Lewicki's "Budowa Utworu Filmowego/ Structure of a Films Work" (1935) and Zofia Lissa's "Muzyka i Film/ Music and Film" (1937).

Mieczyslaw Szczuka, influenced by both constructivists and dadaists, wrote about abstract cinema and realized his own abstract shorts, one similar to Viking Eggeling's Diagonal Symphony (1923) and one similar to Marcel Duchamp's Anemic Cinema (1926), before dying in 1927 at the age of 29. Szczuka amd Teresa Zarnower illustrated the futurist poem "Europa" (1929), written by the socialist writer Anatol Stern.

Stefan Themerson (a writer, later famous for his novels) and his wife Franciszka Weinles (a painter), who had already created the abstract animated short Apteka/ The Pharmacy (1930), adapted Stern's poem as their short Europa (1932). They also made eccentric commercial shorts, notably the three-minute Drobiazg Melodyjny/ Melodious Trifle (1933), Zwarcie/ Short-Circuit (1935), whose music was composed by Witold Lutoslawsky, and the dadaist live-action Przygoda Czlowieka Poczciwego/ The Adventure of a Good Citizen (1937).

The Themersons were not working in a vacuum. They were close to the Stowarzyszeniem Milosnikow Filmu Artystycznego (Association of Art Film Lovers) or START, a group formed by 1930 by young cinema buffs: Eugeniusz Cekalski, Stanislaw Wohl, Jerzy Toeplitz, Jerzy Zarzycki, Tadeusz Kowalski and Wanda Jakubowska.

Similar groups of avantgarde artists were formed in other cities, like Boleslaw Lewicki's Awangarda in Lviv in 1930, and Janusz Maria Brzewski's and Kazimierz Podsadecki's the Studiu Polskiej Awangardy Filmowej (Polish Avant-Garde Film Studio) or SPAF in 1932 in Krakow.

In 1935 START disbanded, but in 1937 Wanda Jakubowska launched the Spoldzielnia Autorow Filmowych (Cooperative of Film Authors) or SAF with the Themersons, Eugeniusz Cekalski, Stanislaw Woh, emerging filmmakers like Aleksander Ford and Antoni Bohdziewicz, and composers Witold Lutoslawski and Andrzej Panufnik. Jakubowska made Nad Niemnem/ Over the Nemunas River (1939), adapted from Eliza Orzeszkowa's novel, and Cekalski directed Trzy Etiudy Chopina/ Three Etudes by Chopin (1937) and especially Strachy/ Fears/ The Ghosts (1938), based on Maria Ukniewska's novel.

The greatest talent of this avantgarde group was Aleksander Ford (a Jew born Mosze Lifszyc), who made the films that truly galvanized Polish cinema: Legion Ulicy/ Legion of the Streets (1932, lost), played by non-professional actors, Sabra (1933), filmed in Palestine with actors from Tel Aviv's Habima Jewish theater, about the conflict between Jewish settlers from Poland and the Arab population, the docudrama Przebudzenie/ The Awakening (1934), about the children of a Jewish tuberculosis sanatorium, and Ludzie Wisly/ People of the Vistula (1937), a touching document about the destitute people living and working on boats on the Vistula river.

Hitler's invasion put an end to their dreams. The vast majority of the pre-war shorts by this group were destroyed in the bombing.

One third of the Polish population was killed in World War II, including writers like Bruno Schulz, scientists like Stefan Kopec and a whole bunch of great mathematicians: Stanislaw Ruziewicz, Stanislaw Saks, Jozef Schreier, Juliusz Schauder, Herman Auerbach and Wlodzimierz Stozek (their fellow mathematician Stanislaw Ulam had escaped just in time in 1939 and later became one of the key scientists of the Manhattan Project and invented the Monte Carlo algorithm).

During the Nazi occupation, several Polish actors, directors, screenwriters and composers were killed or imprisoned, and several others (the Themersons, Ordynski, Lejtes, Waszynski, Konrad Rom) fled abroad. Some who were not killed by the Germans (like Szaro) perished at the hands of the Russians, like Eugeniusz Bodo.


At the end of World War II, Poland's borders were reshaped with Poland gaining Pomerania, Slesia and part of East Prussia from Germany plus the free city of Danzig/ Gdansk and the Soviet Union gaining Lviv, Vilnius and Brest (respectively to Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus), causing the exodus of 3.5 million Germans and 1.5 million Poles. Poland's tragedies didn't end there: in 1947 the Communist Party seized power, and Poland would remain communist for four decades, a satellite state of the Soviet Union, member of the Warsaw Pact (1955) with Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. In 1955 the Polish dictator, Boleslaw Bierut, organized an event that backfired against him: the V Swiatowy Festiwal Mlodziezy i Studentow (Fifth World Festival of Youth and Students). For the first time since the war, the Polish people mingled from Westerners and suddenly realized how much freer and richer the Westerners were. In 1956 Poland experienced a softening of the communist tyranny: Boleslaw Bierut died, Nikita Khrushchev launched the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union and the partial liberalization known as the "Thaw", Poznan workers staged a rare protest, and Wladyslaw Gomulka became the new leader, briefly granting a bit more freedom of speech. It didn't last, but the "Polish October" may have inspired the (failed) Hungarian uprising of that month.

Notable novels of the post-war period were Jerzy Andrzejewski's "Popiol i Diament/ Ashes And Diamonds" (1948), Leopold Buczkowski's "Czarny Potok/ The Black Torrent" (1954), Marek Hlasko's "Osmy dzien Tygodnia/ The Eighth Day of the Week" (1957) and Marek Nowakowski's "Rectangular" (1957). Czeslaw Milosz remained the giant of Polish poetry with collections such as "Swiatlo Dzienne/ The Light of Day" (1953), but in 1960 he emigrated to the USA. Two new major poets emerged: Tadeusz Rozewicz, with "Niepokoj/ Anxiety" (1947), and Zbigniew Herbert, with "Struna Swiatla/ The Chord of Light" (1956). Szymanowski had died before the war, but several new composers emerged in classical music (not counting Mieczyslaw Weinberg who lived in the Soviet Union): Grazyna Bacewicz, Andrzej Panufnik, Roman Palester, and especially Witold Lutoslawski and the much younger Henryk Gorecki.

Cinema, which had not been on solid footing anyway, took a while to recover from the utter destruction and the political turmoil. Particularly painful for cinema was the destruction of the Jewish community. For 40 years, Polish movies were made by Jewish-owned film studios (Hertz, Towbin, Ginzburg, Finkelstein), directed by Jews like Lejtes, Szaro, Ford and Waszynski, written by Jews like Anatol Stern and Andrzej Marek, photographed by Jews like Seweryn Steinwurzel, scored by Jews like Wladyslaw Szpilman and Zygmunt Bialostocki, and played by actors like Molly Picon and Konrad Tom.

The Themersons, now relocated to London, displayed their avantgarde skills in two ten-minute shorts, Wzywamy Pana Smitha/ Calling Mr Smith (1943), a brutal film of anti-German propaganda, and The Eye and the Ear (1945), which animated lieder by composer Karol Szymanowski.

During the war, Poland was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union, and therefore Polish patriots were imprisoned and/or massacred by both invading armies, but in 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Then the Soviet Union allowed Polish general Wladyslaw Anders to recruit Polish prisoners and create a Polish army to fight against Germany. This army set up a propaganda unit for which it hired directors Jozef Lejtes and Michal Waszynski, cinematographer Seweryn Steinwurzel and soundtrack composer Henryk Wars. The best film to come out of that unit was Michal Waszynski's Wielka Droga/ The Great Road (1946), but it was banned for 44 years because of its obvious anti-Soviet spirit.

Aleksander Ford, instead, worked for the official Polish army reconstituted under general Zygmunt Berling, and made documentaries photographed by Stanislaw Wohl. At the end of the war, Poland instituted Film Polski company, which was granted the absolute monopoly of Polish cinema, and hired Ford as the manager and Jerzy Bossak (editor-in-chief of Film magazine) was put in charge of the artistic program. The first feature film that they produced (and that was not canceled by the censors) was Zakazane Piosenki/ Forbidden Songs (1947), directed by Leonard Buczkowski and scripted by Ludwik Starski (a Jewish survivor of German concentration camps) about everyday life in occupied Warsaw. These directors were both minor figures of pre-war cinema, but that's what was left of Polish cinema. Originally filmed as a documentary, it was withdrawn and remade as a musical comedy to please the censors. Its songs, arranged by Roman Palester, evoked life in the capital during the German occupation.

Wanda Jakubowska (of SAF fame), who had spent two years in Nazi concentration camps, fictionalized life in the women s quarters of her concentration camp in her harrowing Ostatni etap/ The Last Stage (1947), the first major film of the post-war era.

The producer Shaul Goskind and the director Natan Gross documented the traumas left by the Holocaust in the Yiddish-language film Unzere Kinder/ Our Children (1948), filmed in neorealist style (on-site shooting and non-professional actors) with Jewish children who had survived the Holocaust and now housed in an orphanage, starring the comedy duo Shimon Dzigan and Israel Shumacher, who in turn had spent the war years in Soviet labor camps. The last Yiddish narrative film made in Poland, it was banned by the authorities for for over thirty years. After immigrating to Israel in 1950, Gross would make Hamartef/ The Cellar (1963), another fictional film about the Holocaust made by Holocaust survivors.

Very little can be salvaged of the "socialist realism" period, maybe Ford's Piatka z ulicy Barskiej/ Five boys from Barska Street (1953), Leonard Buczkowski's Przygoda na Marienszatcie/ An Adventure at Mariensztat (1953) and Maria Kaniewska s Niedaleko Warszawy/ Not far from Warsaw (1954).

The Polish "Thaw" of the late 1950s after Khrushchev's condemnation of Stalin and the "Polish October" allowed intellectuals to escape socialist realism. Polish filmmakers enjoyed more freedom than their Soviet counterparts because Polish censors were not obsessed with controlling also the "form", besides the content, of a film. Soviet filmmakers were subject to censorship just for formal experiments, whereas Polish filmmakers were free to experiment with new cinematic language. And so Polish filmmakers were able to drench their stories in a pessimistic, gloomy and even desperate mood, and/or to use surrealist and metaphorical cinematic languages. The limit of free expression was the history of Polish-Russian relations: while it was obvious that Poland had been oppressed by Russia before World War I, that it fought a war against the Soviet Union in 1920, that Soviet troops committed atrocities in Poland during World War II and that Poland was being forced by the Soviet Union to live under communism, it remained mandatory to depict Russia as a close friend.

In a sense, the sign that the times were changing came from television: the comic TV musical show Kabaret Starszych Panow/ Elderly Gentlemen's Cabaret that ran from 1958 to 1966, created and performed by composer Jerzy Wasowski and writer Jeremi Przybora, was more similar to a musical version of Eugene Ionesco's theatre of absurd than to the traditional, state-sanctioned TV revues.

The "Polish October" eased ideological restrictions at the same time that the Film School, the Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Filmowa (which had been moved from Warsaw to Lodz in 1948 and boasted teachers like Jerzy Toeplitz, Wanda Jakubowska, Stanislaw Wohl and Jerzy Bossak), started graduating aspiring directors (like Andrzej Munk, Andrzej Wajda and later Roman Polanski), screenwriters (like Jerzy Stawinski) and cinematographers (like Jerzy Wojcik, Witold Sobocinski, Mieczyslaw Jahoda, Wieslaw Zdort, Kurt Weber, Jerzy Lipman and Jan Laskowski). And so, out of the ruins, just like in Italy with the neorealists, a generation emerged that put Polish cinema on the map of world cinema: Aleksander Ford, Tadeusz Konwicki, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Andrzej Munk, Andrzej Wajda, a href="../director/has.html">Wojciech Has, etc.

Aleksander Ford devoted his first post-war film to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1953: Ulica Graniczna/ Border Street (1949), viewed from the eyes of children. It came the film when Polish Jews were still shaken by the "Kielce pogrom", during which Polish police and ordinary people had killed 42 Jews. After Osmy Dzien Tygodnia/ The Eighth Day of the Week (1958), based on a story by Marek Hlasko, starring Zbyszek Cybulski and the German actress Sonja Ziemann, which was deemed "ideologically wrong" by the censors and therefore banned, Ford made the anti-German Krzyzacy/ Crusaders/ Knights of the Teutonic Order (1960). His career was cut short by the anti-semitic purges of 1968.

Andrzej Wajda started the new wave of Polish cinema with the aptly titled Pokolenie/ A Generation (1955), adapted from a propaganda novel by Bohdan Czeszko, starring Tadeusz Lomnicki in the main role and Roman Polanski and Zbigniew Cybulski in minor roles, photographed by Jerzy Lipman and Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz, although this film was still very much in the prevailing vein of socialist realism (it even portrayed members of the Polish army as Nazi collaborators, perhaps the result of Aleksander Ford's interference). This was the first in a trilogy of war movies with Kanal/ Dannati di Varsavia (1956), adapted from a story by Jerzy Stawinski, which chronicles a slow carnage of helpless human beings, in a harrowing progression of fear and horror, and Popiol i Diament/ Ashes and Diamonds (1958), his masterpiece, adapted from Jerzy Andrzejewski's 1948 novel, starring Zbigniew Cybulski as a sort of Polish James Dean, and photographed by Jerzy Wojcik.

Andrzej Munk made only three films before his untimely 1961 death, each one demystifying an aspect of communist Poland's dogmas: Czlowiek na Torze/ Man on the Tracks (1956), adapted from a short story by Jerzy Stawinski, which attacks the bureaucracy, the anti-romantic and anti-heroic Eroica (1958), set during the German occupation, which attacks ordinary people, and Zezowate Szczescie/ Bad Luck (1960), adapted from a novel by Jerzy Stawinski, a parody of 20 years of Polish history in the style of the slapstick, plus the unfinished psychological drama Pasazerka/ The Passenger (1961), set in a concentration camp.

Wojciech Has made Petla/ The Noose (1957), adapted from a story by Marek Hlasko, starring the great theatrical actor Gustaw Holoubek, with sets designed by Roman Wolyniec, cinematography by newbie Mieczyslaw Jahoda, and a soundtrack that launched the career of composer Thaddeus Baird, Pozegnania/ Farewells (1958), based on Stanislaw Dygat's novel, photographed again by Jahoda, and the psychological drama Zloto/ Gold (1961), a collaboration with screenwriter Bohdan Czeszko, set in a coal mine.

The master of psychological introspection was Jerzy Kawalerowicz, notably in the thriller Pociag/ Night Train (1959), starring Zbigniew Cybulski, Lucyna Winnicka and Leon Niemczyk, photographed by Jan Laskowski with music by Andrzej Trzaskowski, and in the erotic gothic Matka Joanna od Aniolow/ Mother Joan of the Angels (1961), based on Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz's novella and photographed by Jerzy Wojcik, an allegory of totalitarianism.

Tadeusz Konwicki directed the existential drama Ostatni Dzien Lata/ The Last Day of Summer (1958), starring Irena Laskowska and Jan Machulski, and Salto (1962), starring Zbigniew Cybulski.

This generation also produced Stanislaw Rozewicz's Trzy Kobiety/ Three Women (1956) and Kazimierz Kutz's Nikt nie Wola/ Nobody s Calling (1960) 1960).


The two decades of the 1960s and 1970s were largely decades of political stagnation.

Polish culture was moving abroad. Witold Gombrowicz, arguably Poland's greatest living writer, lived in poverty in Argentina and then, finally acknowledged as a great writer, in Europe when writing "Pornografii" (1960) and "Kosmos" (1965). Teodor Parnicki lived in poverty in Mexico when he wrote "Tylko Beatrycze/ Only Beatrice" (1962) and "Nowa Basn/ A New Fairy Tale" (1962). Kazimierz Brandys managed to publish "Listy do Pani Z/ Letters to Madam Z" (1960) but after 1966, when he joined the underground democratic movement, his books were banned. Two major talents who were able to thrive in Poland were Stanislaw Lem, one of the all-time giants of science fiction, author of "Solaris" (1961), and the filmmaker Tadeusz Konwicki, who also wrote important novels like "Sennik Wspolczesny/ Contemporary Dream Book" (1963), but Konwicki's most significant novel, "Mala Apokalipsa/ A Minor Apocalypse" (1979), surfaced only in the underground press. As usual, there was no scarcity of great poetry in Poland. Zbigniew Herbert published his masterpiece "Studium Przedmiotu/ Study of the Object" (1961), but then emigrated to the West in 1975, whereas Tadeusz Rozewicz published his own masterpiece, "Glos Anonima/ The Nameless Voice" (1961), and remained in Poland until the end of his life. Emerging talents of poetry included Adam Wazyk, with "Labyrint/ Labyrinth" (1961), Ryszard Krynicki, with "Akt Urodzenia/ Act of Birth" (1969), and especially Wislawa Szymborska, who published "Sol/ Salt" (1962) and "Sto Pociech/ Barrel of Laughs" (1967). In the 1970s it was the turn of Anna Swirszczynska, with "Jestem Baba/ I'm a Woman" (1972), and Edward Stachura, with "Missa Pagana" (1978).

Throughout the communist era, Poland was blessed with three of the world's greatest composers: Witold Lutoslawski, Krysztof Penderecki, and Henryk Gorecki.

Slawomir Mrozek's plays, such as "Policja/ Police" (1958) and "Tango" (1965), were perhaps the most long-lasting, and in the 1970s there was no dearth of great plays, notably Tadeusz Rozewicz's "Biale Malzenstwo/ White Wedding" (1975) and Janusz Glowacki's "Kopciuk/ Cinders" (1979).

Two influential theater directors emerged during this time. Tadeusz Kantor, who in 1955 had founded the Cricot 2 theatre with a group of visual artists and art theoreticians, started a revolution in with his 1956 circus-like production of Witkiewicz's "Matwa / The Cuttlefish", his 1963 staging of Witkiewicz's "Wariat i Zakonnica/ The Madman and the Nun" (which implemented his theory of "zero theater" in which there is no action), and his 1967 production of Witkiewicz's "Kurka Wodna/ The Water Hen", for which he first employed mannequins. Meanwhile, he also staged Poland's first happenings: "Cricotage" (1965), "Linia Podzialu/ Dividing Line" (1965), "List / The Letter" (1967), "Panoramiczny Happening Morski/ Panoramic Sea Happening" (1967), etc. He envisioned a "theater of death" with nomadic performances like "Umarla Klasa/ The Dead Class" (1975), which employed both mannequins and "dead" characters, "Wielopole, Wielopole" (1980), starring his own dead family and set in his hometown, "Niech Sczezna Artysci/ Let the Artists Die" (1985), starring himself and two doubles of himself, and "Nigdy juz tu nie Powroce/ I Shall Never Return Here" (1988), starring both himself and a mannequin of himself as a young man.

Jerzy Grotowski, from his base of the Teatr Laboratorium 13 Rzedow in Krakow, inspired by Juliusz Osterwa's Reduta Theater, carried out a revolution in acting which was in turn inspired by East Asian traditions, summarized in his book "Ku Teatrowi Ubogiemu/ Towards a Poor Theatre" (1965). His productions began starring the audience in 1961, with the sets (often designed by architect Jerzy Gurawski) aimed at abolishing the separation of stage and auditorium. This method culminated in his productions (from 1962 to 1965) of Stanislaw Wyspianski's play "Akropolis", transported in a concentration camp, with sets designed by Jozef Szajna, in the 1965 production of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's "Ksiaze Niezlomny/ The Constant Prince", and in the three versions of "Apocalypsis cum Figuris" (1968, 1971 and 1973), which further blurred the line between spectator and actor.

In the 1970s Poland gave the world several more theater innovators. Jozef Szajna, an Auschwitz survivor, founded in 1971 Warsaw's Centrum Sztuki Studio (Studio Centre for the Arts), known as Teatr Studio, where he experimented with "visual theater", theater that focuses on images and almost completely avoids the spoken word, notably in the wordless morality play "Replika/ Rejoinder" (1973), based on his experience in a German concentration camp, and in the series of "open theater" spectacles inspired by the lives and work of Witkacy (1972), aka Witkiewicz, Dante (1974) and Cervantes (1975). Konrad Swinarski, formerly an assistant to Brecht in Germany, influenced by Strzeminski's theory of vision, staged revolutionary productions of Adam Mickiewicz's "Dziady" (in 1973) and of Stanislaw Wyspianski's "Wyzwolenie/ Liberation" (in 1974) at the Stary Theatre in Kracow. Wlodzimierz Staniewski, a close collaborator of Grotowski, established in 1977 the Osrodek Praktyk Teatralnych "Gardzienice" (Centre for Theatrical Practice "Gardzienice") in a village near Lublin.

Theater, basically, had inherited the creative impetus of cinema. However, Polish cinema didn't languish either.

Andrzej Wajda, the conscience of communist Poland, returned with two philosophical films, Wszystko na Sprzedaz/ Everything for Sale (1968), photographed by Witold Sobocinski, and Brzezina/ Birch Wood (1970), starring again Daniel Olbrychski, with Wesele/ The Wedding (1972), adapted from Stanislaw Wyspianski's 1901 play and highlighted again by Sobocinski's camera work, with the generational parable Ziemia Obiecana/ The Promised Land (1974), his eccentric adaptation of a Wladyslaw Reymont novel, starring again Olbrychski, and with a bold critique of the Stalinist era, Czlowiek z Marmuru/ Man of Marble (1976).

Wojciech Has devoted his career to literary adaptations that were increasingly oneiric, notably: the three-hour surrealistic orgy Rekopis Znaleziony w Saragosie/ Manuscript of Saragossa (1964), from Jan Potocki's novel, which was another collaboration with Jahoda (with music by Krzysztof Penderecki), Lalka/ Doll (1968), from Boleslaw Prus' novel, the terror-filled Sanatorium Pod Klepsydra/ The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973), from Bruno Schulz's novel, photographed by Witold Sobocinski, with an almost supernatural recreation of traditional Jewish life, Nieciekawa Historia/ An Uneventful Story (1982), based on a Chekhov story, photographed by Grzegorz Kedzierski, and Osobisty Pamietnik Grzesanika przez Niego Samego Spisany/ A Sinner's Personal Diary Written by Himself/ Memoirs of a Sinner (1985), an adaptation of a Scottish gothic novel of the 19th century, again photographed by Kedzierski.

The 1960s and 1970s are the decade that gave cinema the immense talents of Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Walerian Borowczyk, and Krzysztos Zanussi. However, they mostly lived and worked abroad. In 1959 Borowczyk moved to France (except for a brief return in 1975), followed by Polanski in 1963, Skolimowski left in 1967, and Zanussi spent most of the 1980s in the West.

Roman Polanski, whose background was in the theater of the absurd, debuted with a Bergman-ian psychological drama, Noz w Wodzie/ Knife in the Water (1962), scripted with Jerzy Skolimowski, but then he moved to France and began a collaboration with screenwriter Gerard Brach that yielded Repulsion (1965), his first English-language film, one of all-time greatest psychological thrillers, starring Catherine Deneuve, the manifesto of his demonic pessimism, and the amoral black comedy Cul de Sac (1966). Then he went to Hollywood to make Rosemary's Baby (1967), an adaptation of Ira Levin's novel, starring Mia Farrow, set in a demonic New York where reality and hallucination intersect. He reunited with Brach for the absurdist comedy What? (1972), Le Locataire/ The Tenant (1976), which is the delirious third part of his trilogy of paranoia, and later for the Hitchcock-ian spy thriller Frantic (1988). In between, Polanski made the "Chandler-ian" neo-noir Chinatown (1975), scripted by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson, set in Los Angeles during the 1930s, one of the all-time greatest detective movies, and then Pirates (1986), a comic adventure movie. Polanski's vision of life is the vision of a Dante-esque journey through hell, of a Kafka-ian endless persecution. As a Jew, an artist, a "decadent" and a free thinker, he was a multiple victim of multiple kinds of violence: Polanski suffered the cruelty of the Nazis (who killed his mother), of communism, of a religious cult, and of the US law. No wonder his cinema was, first and foremost, a cinema of cruelty and mental instability. His cinema is a cinema of paranoia and anxiety, and at the same time an hyper-realistic kind of cinema. We are immersed in the countless perversions of the real human world, and his characters are often isolated individuals who find lingering violence in every interaction with their environment, which is ultimately a universe of ominous contradictions. The individual's feverish claustrophobia is simply a reaction to the surrounding absurdity.

Jerzy Skolimowski started out with the analysis of youth alienation in Ryposis/ Identification Marks None (1964) and and Walkower/ Walk Over (1965), but opted for chaotic narrative and grotesque, surrealistic, allegorical imagery in Bariera/ Barrier (1966), enhanced with a jazz soundtrack by Krzysztof Komeda, and for sensual elegance for his two English-language psychosexual films: the morbid psychological study of Deep End (1971), a film of poetic perversion a` la Polanski (with a soundtrack that includes Can's 14-minute song Mother Sky), the horror movie The Shout (1978), a whirlwind of mystical symbols.

Walerian Borowczyk transitioned from the surrealistic animation of shorts like Dom/ House (1958), in collaboration with Jan Lenica, of the 12-minute macabre and Kafka-esque Les Jeux des Anges/ The Games of Angels (1964) and of Le Theatre de Monsieur et Madame Kabal (1967), his first feature-length film, to an erotic and existential cinema influenced by Antonioni, Bunuel, Sade and absurdist theater, but also in the allegorical tradition of Polish novelists like Witkiewicz and Gombrowicz. Goto Ile d'Amour/ Goto Island of Love (1968), the horror fairy tales Blanche (1971), Dzieje Grzechu/ A Story of Sin (1975), adapting Stefan Zeromski's novel, and La Bete/ The Beast (1975), based on Prosper Merimee's novel "Lokis", converged towards a style of "immoral tales" that often trespassed into pornography.

Krzysztos Zanussi, the most cerebral filmmaker of this generation, wrote his own scripts, mostly devoted to spiritual and existential crises, allowed actors to improvise, and collaborated with composer Wojciech Kilar. If Struktura Krysztalu/ Crystal Structure (1969), co-written with Edward Zebrowski and photographed be Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz, was still a metaphorical exploration of moral dilemmas, Illuminacja/ Illuminations (1973), photographed by Edward Klosinski, stood as a veritable cinematic essay, with a cast that included real-life scientists playing themselves and giving erudite lectures. Music and light complemented his erudite meditations that feel like theological theorems. Constans/ The Constant Factor (1980), photographed by Slawomir Idziak, is typical of his metaphysics, which is generally pessimistic and unresolved, and whose characters cannot escape fate.

Kazimierz Kutz was perhaps the most significant of the filmmakers who spent their entire career inside Poland. His output ranged from the surrealistic farce Upal/ Heat (1964), shot by Wieslaw Zdort, starring Jerzy Wasowski and Jeremi Przybora of Kabaret Starszych Panow, to Ktokolwiek Wie/ Whoever Knows (1966), an investigation a` la Orson Welles' Citizen Kane but set in rural Poland. His most personal work was the quasi-ethnographic "Slesian trilogy": Sel Ziemi Czarnej/ Salt of the Black Earth (1970), about the 1920 Slesian uprising against the Germans, which mixes industrial landscape and traditional rituals, photographed by Wiestaw Zdort, under the influence of both Michelangelo Antonioni and Sergej Paradzanov, the film that launched actor Olgierd Lukaszewicz; Perta w Koronie/ The Pearl in the Crown (1972), about a strike of coal miners in the 1930s, photographed by Stanistaw Loth, starring Franciszek Pieczka, with music by Wojciech Kilar; and the nostalgic Paciorki Jednego Rezarica/ Beads of One Rosary (1980), set in the present, acted by nonprofessional local actors, the story of a retired miner (played by a real retired miner) who dies when he is forced to leave his home, due to be demolished.

Also of this period were: Janusz Nasfeter's expressionist Niekochana/ Unloved (1966), based on Adolf Rudnicki s short story; Witold Leszczyriski's study of loneliness Zywot Mateusza/The Life of Matthew (1968), based on a novel by Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas, photographed by Andrzej Kostenko and starring Franciszek Pieczka; Henryk Kluba's folk ballad Storice Wschodzi raz na Dziert/ The Sun Rises Once a Day (1967, released in 1972); and Janusz Morgenstern's love story and social drama Trzeba zabie te mitose/We Have to Kill That Love (1972), scripted by playwright Janusz Glowacki.

On the other hand, Janusz Majewski was a master of pure entertainment, notably Zbrodniarz Ktory Ukradt Zbrodnie/ The Criminal Who Stole a Crime (1969), Zaklete rewiry/Hotel Pacific (1975), adapted from Henryk Worcell, photographed by Miroslav Ondiitek and starring Marek Kondrat, and the more profound historical drama Lekcja Martwego Jezyka/ The Lesson of a Dead Language (1979), adapted from Andrzej Kusniewicz s novel.

The master of comedy during this period was Sylwester Checiriski, thanks especially to the trilogy scripted by Andrzej Mularczyk: Sami Swoi/ All Among Ourselves (1967), Nie ma Mocnych/ Big Deal (1974), and Kochaj Albo Rzue/ Love It or Leave It (1977).

Marek Piwowski directed the sarcastic parody Rejs/ The Cruise (1970), almost a Polish version of Jacques Tati's Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot/ Hulot's Holidays (1953) but shot in a quasi-documentary style with both professional stand-up comedians and non-professional actors, and then Przepraszam czy tu Bija?/ Excuse Me is it Here They Beat up People?/ Foul Play (1975), a moral variation on the gangster genre, photographed by Witold Stok.

Historical dramas became a popular genre thanks to films by Has (Rekopis Znaleziony w Saragosie/ Manuscript of Saragossa, 1964), Wajda (Popioly/ Ashes, 1965) and Kawalerowicz (Faraon/ Pharaoh, 1966). In the next generation the master of this genre was Jerzy Hoffman, who adapted two novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz, both starring Daniel Olbrychski: Pan Wolodyjowski/ Colonel Wolodyjowski (1969), set in the 17th century during the Ottoman invasion of Poland and photographed by Jerzy Lipman, and the five-hour Potop/ The Deluge (1974), set in the 17th century during the Swedish invasion of Poland and photographed by Jerzy Wojcik. But the blockbuster of historical melodramas was Jerzy Antczak's Noce i Dnie/ Nights and Days (1975), a sort of Polish Gone with the Wind, the adaptation of Maria Dabrowska's four-volume family saga. Jerzy Kawalerowicz's period movie and docudrama Smierc Prezydenta/ Death of a President (1977) was his most visually arresting film.

Another exile was Andrzej Zulawski, who moved to France after his Diabel/ The Devil (1972) was banned in Poland, and made the horror movie Possession (1981) in English.

Tadeusz Konwicki directed the oneiric, hybrid, cine-essay Jak Daleko Stad, Jak Blisko/ How Far from Here, Yet How Near (1972) about the existential crisis of an entire generation.

A particularly important strand of Polish cinema of the late 1970s was "kino moralnego niepokoju" (cinema of moral anxiety), a term coined in 1979 by Andrzej Wajda and Janusz Kijowski during their speech at the Festiwal Polskich Filmow Fabularnych (Polish Film Festival) in Gdansk, which attacked the communist regime for suppressing artistic freedom. They were referring to films that exposed corruption, incompetence and failure, films which were discouraged in the first place and banned if actually made and distributed. Besides films of the older generation like Wajda's Czlowiek z Marmuru/ Man of Marble (1976) and Zanussi's Barwy Ochronne/ Camouflage (1977), starring Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, this new movement launched the careers of several new filmmakers. Two of the most important Polish filmmakers of the future debuted in this vein: Krzysztof Kieslowski with Personel/ Personnel (1975) and Przypadek/ Blind Chance (1977), and Agnieszka Holland with Aktorzy Prowincjonalni/ Provincial Actors (1978).

Edward Zebrowski (born Edward Bernstein), who co-wrote several of Zanussi s films, staged his moral dilemmas in wartime: Szpital Przemienienia/ The Hospital of Transfiguration (1979), adapted from a Stanislaw Lem story, about the reaction of the staff when the Germans decide to kill all the patients of a mental asylum, and W Bialy Dzien/In Broad Daylight (1980), adapted from Wladyslaw Terlecki, about the reaction of a young man of the Resistance when he is tasked with assassinating a Polish collaborator of the Russian secret police.

Other films of this movements were: Janusz Kijowski's Indeks (1977) and Kung-fu (1979), both about the 1968 generation; Feliks Falk's vitriolic Wodzirej/ Top Dog (1978) and Szansa/ Chance (1979), two collaborations with actor Jerzy Stuhr; Piotr Andrejew's Klincz/ Clinch (1979); Ryszard Bugajski's jarring anti-communist Przesluchanie/ Interrogation (1982, banned until 1989), set in the 1950s and starring Krystyna Janda; etc. Jerzy Stuhr and Zbigniew Zapasiewicz were the iconic actors of this movement.

Surprisingly, several TV series helped to propel this genre into the mainstream, which was fundamentally critical of communism, into the mainstream, notably Zbigniew Chmielewski's Dyrektorzy/ Directors (1975).

Krzysztof Wojciechowski blurred the line between documentary and fiction by employing nonprofessional actors and telling their real-life stories in Kochajmy Sie/ Lets make Love (1974) and Reg Brzeskiej i Capri/ The Corner of Brzeska and Capri (1980).

Marcel Lozinski predated reality television with Jak Zyc/ How Are We to Live? (1978, only released in 1980 and banned in 1981), in which real-life young couples competes in a summer camp, revealing a society rotten at the core.

Filip Bajon made two Fellini-esque films, both enhanced with baroque visuals by cinematographer Jerzy Zielinski: Aria dla Atlety/ Aria for an Athlete (1979), about the tragic career of a famous wrestler at the turn of the century, and Wizja Lokalna 1901/ Inspection of Crime Scene 1901 (1981), about a strike in 1901 of heroic Polish children who refused to attend German-language classes.

Piotr Szulkin was that generation's master of science fiction movies, notably Golem (1979), inspired by the Jewish legend but set in the 21st century, and O-Bi O-Ba - Koniec Cywilizacji/ The End of Civilization (1985), starring Jerzy Stuhr and Krystyna Janda.

Standing apart was the new avantgarde. The most significant movement came out, unsurprisingly, from the Lodz school. The Warsztat Formy Filmowej (Film Form Workshop), a collective of multimedia artists, was established in 1970 by Jozef Robakowski, already a founder of Zero-61 in 1961, whose Test (1971) was a film tape full of holes, by Wojciech Bruszewski, whose YYAA (1973) is just a five-minute scream, by Pawel Kwiek, whose Numerki/ Numbers (1973) is 30 minutes of numbers, by Zbigniew Rybczynski, the future pioneer of video art, whose animated short Tango (1981) was the most famous animated film of the era, and by other multidisciplinary artists like Kazimierz Bendkowski, Ryszard Wasko and Andrzej Rozycki. They were inspired by constructivism and by Stefan Themerson. The collective lasted until 1977.

Grzegorz Krelikiewicz was a protagonist in the search for a new cinematic language, notably in the thriller Na Wylot/ Clear Through (1973), starring Franciszek Trzeciak and Anna Nieborowska, both enhanced and derailed by unusual camera movement and angles, by distorted close-ups of the actors and by bizarre sound effects.

The Polish Pope and Solidarnosc

The political situation in Poland had been unstable since the riots of Gdansk in 1970. Edward Gierek, the new leader who replaced Gomulka in 1970, opened up to foreign investment but, in so doing, he also increased Poland's debt which ended up worsening the economy. In 1978 the Catholic Church chose a Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, as the first non-Italian Pope in centuries, and he became John Paul II, a charismatic figure for the next three decades. Poland was a very Catholic country and the Polish pope galvanized ordinary people. In 1980 a humble worker, Lech Walesa, led the Solidarnosch/ Solidarity movement to stage a strike, a rarity in the communist world. The communist party replaced Gierek with general Wojciech Jaruzelski, who imposed martial law to restore order. In reality, Jaruzelski feared a Soviet intervention like the ones that followed popular protests in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). In reality, during the 1980s Poland experienced more and more freedom of expression. Several organs of the communist regime relaxes their grip on propaganda and censorship. For example, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the editor-in-chief between 1958 and 1982 of the influential magazine Polityka, ended up being a mediator between Jaruzelski and Walesa (and becoming himself the prime minister presiding over the end of the dictatorship), and he was replaced at the helm of the magazine by Jan Bijak, who allowed articles advocating a multi-party system. In 1989 the Communist Party and Solidarnosch agreed to hold free parliamentary elections, which were won by Solidarnosch. In August Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed prime minister, leading he first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc, and capitalist-oriented economic reforms began.

No surprise then that Poland witnessed a resurgence of the novel, such as future bestseller Hanna Krall's "Sublokatorka/ The Subtenant" (1985), Pawel Huelle's "Waiser Dawidek/ Who was David Weiser" (1987), Piotr Szewc's "Zaglada/ Annihilation" (1987), etc. Poetry remained the main literary vehicle and new poets included Jaroslaw Rymkiewicz, Andrzej Zaniewski, and Adam Zagajewski, although their best collections probably came in the 1990s.

The big talents of cinema to emerge from the cinema of moral anxiety were Krzysztof Kieslowski and Agnieszka Holland. Kieslowski started collaborating with screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz in 1985. Their Dekalog/ Decalogue (1988), loosely inspired by the ten commandments of the Bible, is a set of ten short films which constitute a Bergman-esque autopsy of an imploding society, wrapped in an austere and solemn tone. They are relentlessly pessimistic parables in which individuals who are struggling for spiritual survival are doomed to inevitable loneliness and defeat by an implacable fate. Their stories are full of ironic twists, of grotesque coincidence. And they radiate profound humanity.

Holland depicted the grim absurdity of life under communism in Kobieta Samotna/ A Woman Alone (1981), her masterpiece, a film that is much more than a political statement: it depicts an epic struggle for survival by a powerless being who doesn't stand a chance.

Barbara Sass directed films centered on strong independent young women, starring Dorota Stalinska: a young journalist in Bez Milosci/ Without Love (1980), a young architect in Debiutantka/ Debutante (1982) and a young ex-convict in Krzyk/ The Scream (1983), the most desperate and hopeless.

Robert Glinski's chilling black-and-white political parable Niedzielne Igraszki/ Sunday Pranks (1983), set on the day of Stalin's death, was banned for five years.

Marek Koterski created a unique experiment of self-analysis in a series of nine autobiographical films about his own alter ego Adas Miauczynski, starting with Dom Wariatow/ The House of Fools (1984).

The most original comedy of the decade was Juliusz Machulski's dystopian comedy Seksmisja/ Sexmission (1984), starring Jerzy Stuhr.

Other notable films of the decade were: Wojciech Marczewski’s visually elegant Zmory/ Nightmares (1979); Lech Majewski's Rycerz/ The Knight (1979), about the adventures of a medieval knight searching for the miraculous golden harp, inspired by 13th-century Polish icons; Witold Orzechowski's Wyrok Smierci (1980), a film noir set during the German occupation; Tadeusz Kijanski's Dzien Wisly (1980), in which a young wheelchair-bound cripple joins the Resistance; Janusz Kidawa's Grzeszny zywot Franciszka Buly/ The sinful life of Francis Buly (1980), a folk ballad on a wandering street performer who wreaked havoc in Slesia before the war with his jokes; Andrzej Baranski’s Kobieta z Prowincji/ Woman from the Provinces (1984), a moving portrait of a humble woman, starring Ewa Dalkowska; Witold Leszczynski's Siekierezada (1985), based on a novel by Edward Stachura, about a poet existential crisis of an intellectual; and Radoslaw Piwowarski's Kochankowie Mojej Mamy/ My Mother’s Lovers (1985), a vehicle for two of Poland's greatest actors, Krystyna Janda and Rafal Wegrzynek.

Juliusz Machulski made two blockbusters: the period piece and gangster movie Va Banque (1981, released in 1983), similar to George Roy Hill’s The Sting, and the sci-fi comedy Seksmisja/ Sex Mission (1985).


In 1990 the new democratically elected government launched an economic program of "shock therapy" for the rapid privatization of all state properties and assets. Lech Walesa was elected president of Poland. The nearby Baltic states declared their independence from the Soviet Union, in particular Lithuania (historically tied to Poland). In 1999 Poland joined the Western alliance NATO and in 2004 Poland joined the European Union. An economic miracle was soon underway: Poland's economy was the fastest growing economy of any former communist country, just at the time when Russia's economy was imploding. In 2007 Poland posted the highest growth rate of any European economy, 6.8%. Poland's economy grew 15.8% throughout the Great Recession of 2008-11. Poland's per-capita income had already passed Russia in the 1990s. Nationalism and a bit of xenophobia propelled a right-wing party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law & Justice Party, to power, upsetting the traditional pro-European stance of Walesa and of his successor Aleksander Kwasniewski, until Donald Tusk, who was prime minister between 2007 and 2014, won the parliamentary elections of 2023. The Law & Justice Party had increasingly flirted with dictatoship, coming to control a nationwide network of television, radio stations and many regional newspapers.

The giant of Polish literature during the early democratic era was Olga Tokarczuk, who published important novels such as "Prawiek i Inne Czasy/ Primeval and Other Times" (1996), "Bieguni/ Flights" (2007), "Prowadz Swoj Plug Przez Kosci Umarlych/ Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead" (2009) and "Ksiegi Jakubowe/ The Books of Jacob" (2014).

After the fall of communism, Poland's cinema industry was bankrupt. It remained in a terrible condition for a few years. Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler's List (1993) in Poland and contributed to galvanize Polish cinema at the beginning of the economic recovery.

Kieslowski and Piesiewicz ventured into international productions. La Double Vie de Veronique/ The Double Life of Veronica (1991), photographed by Slawomir Idziak, is a cryptic existential poem. The "Three Colours" trilogy, again photographed by Slawomir Idziak, started with Blue/ Bleu (1993), a slow drill into a devastated female psyche, continued with the black comedy Bialy/ Blanc/ White (1993), and was completed by Rouge/ Red (1994), a supremely romantic ending, with echoes of Charlie Chaplin's Limelight.

Agnieszka Holland made austere films in German (the historical drama Europa Europa, 1991), English (The Third Miracle, 1999, adapted from a novel by Richard Vetere) and in French.

Roman Polanski directed abroad the Bunuel-esque erotic drama Lunes de Fiel/ Bitter Moon (1992) in France and Death and the Maiden (1994) in Hollywood, a psychological puzzle that again has a mentally unstable woman at the center, and then finally, after 40 years, returned to make a film in Poland, The Pianist (2002), a Holocaust film notable for the accurate reconstruction of life in Germany-occupied Poland.

Just like Polish immigrants created some of Hollywood's most famous studios in the 1920s, Polish immigrants were among the most trusted cameramen in Hollywood: Andrzej Sekula worked on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994); Janusz Kaminski collaborated with Steven Spielberg on several films starting with Schindler's List (1993); Slawomir Idziak photographed Andrew Niccol's Gattaca (1997), Andrzej Bartkowiak was hired for Jan DeBont's Speed (1994) and Taylor Hackford's Devil's Advocate (1997); etc.

Grzegorz Krelikeiwicz added the psychodrama Przypadek Pekosinskiego/ The case of Pekosinski (1993) to his unorthodox canon.

Jan-Jakub Kolski crafted stylized folk parables set in surrealistic worlds, notably Jancio Wodnik/ Johnnie Aquarius (1993), starring Franciszek Pieczka, and Historia kina w Popielawach/ The History of the Movies in Popielawy (1998).

Dorota Kedzierzawska, in collaboration with cameraman Artur Reinhart, specialized in psychological melodramas centered on children and based on real-life events, such as Wrony/ Crows (1994), Nic/ Nothing (1998), Jestem/ I am (2005), with music by Michael Nyman, and Jutro Bedzie Lepiej/ Tomorrow Will Be Better (2010).

After the blockbuster Dlug/ The Debt (1999), about Poland's moral decline after the fall of communism, with music by jazz composer Michal Urbaniak, Krzysztof Krauze collaborated with his wife Joanna Kos-Krauze on the biopic Moy Nikifor/ My Nikifor (2004), photographed by Krzysztof Ptak, about the last years of painter Nikifor Krynicki, on the domestic drama Plac Zbawiciela/ Saviour Square (2006), which returned to the motif of moral decline, and on the poetic biopic Papusza (2013), again photographed by Ptak, about the rise and fall of gypsy poetess Bronislawa Wajs, set in a pre-war world of gypsy caravans and small Jewish towns.

Pawel Pawlikowski left Poland for Britain in 1971 at the age of 14, where in collaboration with cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski, he made the English-language films Last Resort (2000), My Summer of Love (2004) and La Femme du Veme/ The Woman in the Fifth (2011), but returned to Poland to film the black and white psychological drama Ida (2013) and Zimna Wojna/ Cold War (2018), the first one without Lenczewski, a love story told with the cold detachment of a mathematical theorem.

Andrzej Jakimowski made two films centered on children, both photographed by Adam Bajerski: Zmruz Oczy/ Squint Your Eyes (2003) about a ten-year-old girl, and Sztuczki/ Tricks (2007), about a five-year-old boy child, besides the touching Imagine (2012) in English.

Lech Majewski engaged in increasingly cerebral exercises of intricate skeins of symbols: Ogrod Rozkoszy Ziemskich/ The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004), based on his own novel "Metafizyka/ Metaphysics", inspired by Bosch's great painting, Mlyn i Krzyz/ The Mill and the Cross (2011), based on Pieter Bruegel's 16th-century painting "The Procession to Calvary", and Onirica/ Field of Dogs (2013), inspired by Dante's "Divina Comedia".

Wojciech Smarzowski indulged in scathing social commentary in films such as Wesele/ The Wedding (2004), which transposes Stanislaw Wyspianski's 1901 play into contemporary Poland so that it becomes a dark comedy of greed, Dom Zly/ The Dark House (2009), with cinematographer Krzysztof Ptak, and the moving Rose (2011), written by Michal Szczerbic and set in postwar Poland, about the widow of a German soldier who has to survive both Russian soldiers and Polish refugee.

Malgorzata Szumowska debuted with the somber autobiographical 33 sceny z zycia/ 33 Scenes from Life (2008), but then she indulged in a comedy about a psychoanalyst with supernatural powers, Cialo/ Body (2015), and in a satirical allegory about contemporary Polish society, Twarz/ Mug (2018).

Jerzy Skolimowski returned to cinema after a long hiatus with Cztery Noce z Anna/ Four Nights with Anna (2008), a study of loneliness co-written with Ewa Piaskowska, the English-language Essential Killing (2010), starring Vincent Gallo and also co-written by Piaskowska, and 11 Minut/ 11 minutes (2015), scripted by himself, a film of existential anxiety, a thriller of sorts that emerges out of a mosaic of micro-stories.

The prolific Agnieszka Holland continued to deal with history and fate in films such as: the historical drama W Ciemnosci/ In Darkness (2011), based on real events during Germany's occupation of Poland in World War II; the television miniseries Horicki Ker/ Burning Bush (2013), a moving four-hour historical drama, written by Stepan Hulik and based the real events of the 1969 Czech protests against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia; Spoor (2017), an adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk's "Prowadz Swoj Plug Przez Kosci Umarlych/ Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead"; Obywatel Jones/ Mr Jones (2019), a real-life spy thriller; Zielona Granica/ The Green Border (2023), about the drama of refugees; etc.

Other significant films of the early 21st century include: Robert Glinski's Czesc Tereska/ Hi Tereska (2001) a moving portrayal of a teenage girl's loneliness; Wladyslaw Pasikowski's Poklosie/ Aftermath (2012); Marcin Krzysztalowicz's morality play Oblawa/ Manhunt (2012), set during World War II; Bodo Kox's Dziewczyna z Szafy/ Girl From The Wardrobe (2013); Marcin Wrona's Demon (2015), which revisited the Jewish legend of the Dybbuk, Agnieszka Smoczynska's Corki Dancingu/ The Lure (2015), written by Robert Bolesto and photographed by Jakub Kijowski, about a pair of mermaids who join a cabaret; Michal Marczak's Wszystkie Nieprzespane Noce/ All These Sleepless Nights (2017); Greg Zglinski's Tiere/ Animals (2017); Filip Jan Rymsza's Komar/ Mosquito State (2020); etc.

Grzegorz Zglinski was emblematic of the cosmopolitanism of this generation: he rose to prominence with the French-language film Tout un Hiver sans Feu/ A whole Winter without Fire (2004), then made Wymyk/ Courage (2011) in Poland but then directed the German-language Tiere/ Animals (2017).

The poet Milosz died in 2004, the pope Wojtyla died in 2005, Lem died in 2006, Szymborska died in 2012, Mrozek died in 2013, Tadeusz Rozewicz died in 2014, Tadeusz Konwicki died in 2015, Wajda (the conscience of communist Poland) died in 2016, Penderecki died in 2020, and Zbigniew Herbert was already dead in 1998, and Kieslowski was already dead in 1996. A whole world of Polish culture that had risen and struggled during communist Poland was disappearing.

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