On A Short Film About Killing (1988)

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To view A Short Film About Killing click here.

I used to work in the DVD division of Facets Multi-Media, a Chicago arts organization devoted to showing, distributing and preserving foreign, avant-garde and documentary films. Facets was the first to own the North American distribution rights to The Decalogue, Krysztof Kieslowski’s ten-part series inspired by the Ten Commandments that he made for Polish television. My role in the release of the series on this side of the Atlantic involved everything from checking the authored discs to editing the subtitles to producing the booklet inserted in each package. In the process, I viewed each hour-long episode at least half a dozen times, and to say they hold up on repeated viewings is an understatement. Episodes V and VI were expanded by Kieslowski to feature-length films and released to theaters. A Short Film About Killing (1988) and A Short Film About Love (1988) are both available on FilmStruck.

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Sifting through Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

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To view Ashes and Diamonds click here.

Is it possible for a film to be revered as a world classic and influence an entire generation of its country’s filmmakers yet still be underrated? In the case of Ashes and Diamonds (1958), the best-known film from the great Andrzej Wajda (whom we lost last year), the answer could very well be yes. The film was a major salvo in the onslaught of Polish masterpieces made in the wake of Stalinist control in the country, and it made a world cinema superstar out of Wajda, regularly turning up in film retrospectives and popping up on best-of lists for decades. More recently it was inaugurated into the Criterion Collection and was included in Martin Scorsese’s internationally traveling film series Masterpieces of Polish Cinema a few years ago, which went all over Europe as well as New York and Los Angeles. [...MORE]

The Bruce Willis of Poland

Working at Facets Multi-Media has introduced me to foreign films most movie-goers don’t even know exist—from Krik Krak, the long-forgotten experimental documentary from Haiti, to Yesterday Girl, Alexander Kluge’s debut feature that introduced the New German Cinema. My friend Lew from Rentals exposed me to Lady Terminator and the wonders of 1980s Indonesian horror, while Charles, our intrepid cinematheque programmer, started my year off with a good laugh via Four Lions, an English comedy about terrorism.

Among my favorite films released on the Facets DVD label are many from Poland, particularly those from the post-communist film industry. To many film scholars, Polish cinema means the work of Andrzej Wajda and the so-called “cinema of morality” of the 1970s or even the “Polish School” of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Directors like Wajda, Jerzy Hoffman, and Krzysztof Zanussi were renowned for the formal characteristics of their styles and for the subtexts of their films, which were often veiled criticisms of communism. Wajda and his peers attracted an arthouse crowd to their films and the devotion of educated audiences and intellectuals in Poland and around the world. But, Polish cinema to me brings to mind directors like Juliusz Machulski and stars like Boguslaw Linda. While I admire the work of the great directors of the communist era, who smartly weaved social commentary and criticism as subtexts in their narratives, I am amused by the often uneven but always entertaining movies of the post-communist era.

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The Madcap Mind of Juliusz Machulski

For aficionados of foreign film, great Polish cinema generally brings to mind such names as Wajda, Kieslowski, and Zanussi. Those are the directors who inspire retrospectives at film festivals and whose careers are studied in film schools. But, these type of directors no longer typify Polish cinema, which has managed to survive the many changes and struggles of the post-communist era with commercial fare often patterned after Hollywood genres.  The director considered the most commercially successful in all of Polish film history has dominated the Polish box office since the early 1980s, bridging the late communist era and the contemporary commercial industry. His name is Juliusz Machulski, and his string of oddball satires and genre flicks have such a madcap craziness about them that they are immediately recognizable as his.

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            The son of popular Polish actor Jan Machulski, Juliusz graduated from the famous film school in Lodz in 1978. In 1981, he made his first feature film, Vabank, a caper film in the spirit of Rififi or The Sting. Vabank starred Juliusz’s father, Jan, and it introduced the Polish audience to what would become the Machulski style—broad comedy, slick production values, a Polish twist on a familiar genre, a manic energy, and a preference for oddly imaginative production design.  

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