Polish film festival shows a solidarity of cinema
Back for its 24th annual edition, the Polish Film Festival in America bills itself as the world’s largest annual showcase of Polish cinema outside Poland.
Presented by the Chicago-based nonprofit Society for Arts and sponsored by the Polish Film Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, the festival consists of 21 features, 31 documentaries and shorts screening at five area venues. A non-competitive event, it bestows two prizes, the Golden Teeth, for most interesting feature, and the Wings Award, for life achievement. This year’s recipient of the Wings Award is director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose “The Woman in the Fifth” (2011) will be screened at the festival.
Among subjects of profiles are Vera Gran, a Jewish singer with Nazi fans, and Leopold Tyrmand, the Polish novelist and founding editor of “Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture,” published by the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Ill. A sidebar showcases a dozen screen adaptations, made between 1957 and 2007, from the works of Janusz Korczak and Bruno Schulz, and including “The Hour-Glass Sanatorium” (1973), a surreal sojourn directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has.
All screenings are at Muvico Rosemont 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr, Rosemont; Gallery Theatre in Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee; Facets, 1517 W. Fullerton; Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect, Park Ridge, and Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.
“My Father’s Bike,” 7 p.m., Muvico: The opening-night film is a three-generation road trip with comic notes. A 70-year-old clarinetist is hospitalized by news that his wife has left. His divorced son, a concert pianist, comes from Berlin to help find her. So does his teenage son, who is in love with his lit teacher in London, and is soon to be a father. He keeps his earbuds in to keep out the noise of squabbling. Piotr Trzaskalski directs a touching tale of men not dealing with their feelings for one another, let alone the women in their lives. The screening will be be followed by a reception at the Society of Arts.
“80 Million,” 4 p.m., Muvico: Poland’s entry last year for the foreign film Oscar was this fact-based action drama by Waldemar Krzysteki. In December 1981, four bold members of the Solidarity movement hide their union’s cash in a church. “He’s too smart to be so stupid,” sneers a Security Service operative, who underestimates the archbishop colluding with the activists. Several of the key players revisit their exploits in the equally compelling documentary “What Happened to the $80 Million?,” which at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Gallery Theater. Also, 8:45 p.m. Nov. 9, Facets, and 9 p.m. Nov. 10, Pickwick.
“Courage,” 7 p.m., Facets: Filmmaker Greg Zglinski undertakes an inquiry into hard choices and their consequences, a theme of many fest titles this year. This moral drama depicts two brothers running a cable TV company after their father suffers a stroke. In the opening scene, the older one recklessly outraces a train, reaching a crossing just in time. Enraged, his younger brother jumps out of the car. Later, one brother will take no risks to stop a young gang from throwing his sibling from a speeding train. Also, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Muvico, and 7 p.m. Nov. 14, Pickwick.
“Letters to Santa,” 8:45 p.m., Facets: Director Mitja Okorn gets low-key laughs and sweet tears in this entertaining American-style ensemble film that links a variety of characters on Christmas Eve. Perfect strangers improvise family-like bonds and estranged families rebuild, all to the tunes of “Over the Rainbow” and “What the World Needs Now.” Also, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Muvico, and 8:45 p.m. Nov. 15, Pickwick.
7 p.m., Gallery: Malgorzata Imielska observes five Polish soldiers serving six-month deployments in the Ghazi Province in Afghanistan. This recommended documentary resembles many others made by American filmmakers on the same terrain. The parallels are revelatory. At a funeral, a commander is less than convincing when he states: “We have to believe everything we do here makes sense.” Back in Poland, a vet admits he is bored, but another notes: “I’m glad to be home where nobody shoots at me.”
“Supermarket,” 8 p.m., Muvico: A big supermarket on New Year’s Eve is the unlikely locale for a rather grim workplace drama as director Maciej Zak explores a long night of dark deeds. A spiral connects a suspected shoplifter and an overzealous head of store security. Inventory control never triggered such extreme measures and performance reviews by supervisors. Also, 7 p.m. Nov. 9, Facets, and 7 p.m. Nov. 13, Pickwick.
“Limousine,” 8 p.m., Muvico: Jerome Dassier directs a stormy drama about another long night, as a chauffeur perfumed with counterfeit Poison picks up an obnoxious businessman at the airport. He has a big cash bribe for a local official and trouble with a local love interest. Meanwhile, a naked guy wanted for murder hides in the limo’s trunk. Nick Cave aptly sings “People Just Ain’t No Good” during the end credits of this murky story of shady characters. Also, 7 p.m. Nov. 10, Pickwick.
“It Looks Pretty from a Distance,” 5:30 p.m., Facets: Visual artists Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal make an auspicious first film, perhaps the best in the festival. With minimal dialogue and lyrical imagery, they portray a nasty slice of life in the country. A senile woman is tied down and howls. A scrap metal collector disappears. Dogs are poisoned. A car veers to hit a man. A woman stabs a driver behind the wheel. This is the unlikely beauty of awful people. The utter lack of a moral lesson or message makes for an unusually unsparing exercise. Also, 5 p.m. Nov. 18, Gallery.
“Hans Kloss: More Than Death at Stake,” 3 p.m., Facets: After appearing in 18 TV episodes and 20 comic books, secret agent Hans Kloss hits the big screen in Patryk Vega’s cheesy action film wherein old Nazis and new Socialists seek lost treasure in 1975, as exiled fascists gather for a funeral in Gen. Franco’s Spain and explore funding the Fourth Reich. Flashbacks to the last days of WWII reveal a Polish double agent impersonating a high-ranking Nazi. Now the real and fake operatives exit retirement. Treachery ensues and things go boom. Also, 8 p.m. Nov. 16, Muvico.
“Manhunt,” 4 p.m., Muvico: The fest wraps with an exceptional World War II drama about the lethal ethics of survival under occupation. As a stoic, conflicted executioner of disloyal Poles sentenced to death by partisans, Marcin Dorocinski delivers an especially strong turn in Marcin Krzysztalowicz’s drama set in the bloody woods of Lower Silesia. Special admission includes a gala and ceremony.
Bill Stamets is a locally based writer and critic.