Each spring the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival brings to London the very best of Polish cinema. Returning to a selection of venues across the capital for its 16th edition, Kinoteka will run throughout March, offering UK audiences an opportunity to see contemporary and classic Polish releases, and to attend talks, live music and exhibitions.
Alongside programmed strands are one-off events such as a Q&A with the legendary Krzysztof Zanussi after a screening of his debut film, The Structure of Crystal (1969), and a supper club including a showing of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991).
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Here’s a look at some highlights.
The Krauzes retrospective
Opening the festival on 7 March will be Birds Are Singing in Kigali (2017), the final film by husband and wife duo Krzysztof Krauze and Joanna Kos-Krauze, a complex and somewhat experimental depiction of the trauma suffered by survivors of the Rwandan genocide. It was completed by Joanna on her own after Krzysztof died in 2014 during production, circumstances that give an added poignancy to a film already steeped in grief and resilience.
Birds Are Singing in Kigali will be accompanied at the festival by screenings of two more works by the duo, My Nikifor (2004), which they co-wrote, and Papusza (2013), which they co-directed. My Nikifor is a droll portrait of self-taught painter Nikifor Krynicki during the last years of his life, most notable for the central turn from actress Krystyna Feldman as the male protagonist. Papusza is another biographic treatment of an artist; this time of Romany poet Bronislawa Wajs (played by Jowita Budnik). A slow recounting of a troubled life, it’s visually ravishing in exquisite monochrome shot by Krzysztof Ptak and Wojciech Staroń.
100 Years of Polish Independence
Retrospective strands have been a real standout of Kinoteka in recent years, with this edition offering a focus on cinema produced within 20 years of Poland’s restored sovereignty from the German, Austrian and Russian Empires and the birth of the Second Polish Republic in 1918.
Aleksander Hertz’s Bestia (1917) was released a year before independence and is one of the earliest extant Polish films. Made under occupation, it’s about a young cabaret dancer who falls for a married man. Bestia is also notable for being the earliest surviving complete film starring Pola Negri who went on to international stardom in Germany and Hollywood.
Juliusz Gardan’s Is Lucyna a Girl? (1934) and Jan Nowina-Przybylski and Konrad Tom’s Love Manoeuvres (1935) are both comedies that adopt a common trope from Polish films of the time: mistaken identity. Riffing on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Is Lucyna a Girl? sees its eponymous heroine (played by Jadwiga Smosarska) take the name Julian in order to be allowed to work as an engineer. In Love Manoeuvres a prince and a baroness both try to avoid an arranged marriage by having someone else take their place at their meeting. In both cases, the swapped identities lead to myriad romantic complications.
New Polish Cinema
The bread and butter of each year’s Kinoteka is the programme of Polish films that have debuted at festivals around the world and theatrically in Poland over the past 12 months. One of the standouts of this year’s lineup is Kasia Adamik’s Amok (2017). A psychological thriller about the real-life killer Krystian Bala, it centres on a chilling turn from Mateusz Kościukiewicz, who also stars in Małgorzata Szumowska’s Mug (2018), which recently won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
Similar terrain is navigated by Maciej Pieprzyca’s period serial killer piece I’m a Killer (2016). Pieprzyca made a 1998 documentary about events taking place in Zagłębie in the late 1960s and now returns to the subject in this award-winning drama.
Other highlights include: Rafael Kapeliński’s coming-of-ager Butterfly Kisses (2017), set on a London housing estate; Maria Sadowska’s The Art of Loving: The Story of Michalina Wisłocka, a biopic of the famous Polish sexologist (played by Magdalena Boczarska) centring around the publishing of her widely popular book The Art of Loving; and Urszula Antoniak’s Beyond Words, which follows a Polish émigré in Berlin who is unexpectedly confronted with his long-lost-father.