The Rochester Polish Film Festival, sponsored by the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies at the University of Rochester, writes its 15th chapter this year, with eight features and four shorts that explore the myriad aspects of the Polish experience. Guest artists who will be on hand to present their work include veteran filmmaker Leszek Wosiewicz ("Totentanz: Scenes From The Warsaw Uprising"), writer-director Jan Komasa (the acclaimed "Suicide Room" is his narrative feature debut), and co-producer Arkadiusz Wojnarowski (the animated documentary "Crulic: The Path to Beyond").
But first, a peek at a few of this year's selections, all of which are in Polish with English subtitles. Visit the festival's website for more details.
Ki is an unmarried mother with a weaselly boyfriend who does more pouting than their adorably towheaded little boy, even going to far as to storm out right when Ki needs to leave for work. We're certain this loser is holding her back, and we're psyched when she kicks him to the curb. But as "My Name Is Ki" continues, it becomes pretty clear that Ki's problems are largely of her own making, through an unwillingness to take responsibility, a petulant sense of entitlement that taxes even her most generous friends, and an inflated opinion of her artistic self. (Not to mention a nasty, vengeful streak.)
Director Leszek Dawid's keenly observed drama watches as Ki learns about standing on her own without the assistance of a man, and he's blessed with a brave and beautiful central performance by young Rebecca De Mornay lookalike Roma Gasiorowska as Ki. Gasiorowska is not afraid to paint the very human Ki in truthful strokes, and, as we all know, the truth often hurts. (Saturday, November 17, 3 p.m.)
"Courage" seems to be something that the macho Fred thinks he possesses; he collects antique firearms, races oncoming trains, and has a cowboy attitude toward the future of his internet company. Fred's brother Jerzy is the tentative one, advising a more sensible path in business and objecting to Fred's reckless ways. But it ain't Fred who steps up when thugs harass a young woman the train, a move that leaves Jerzy on life support and Fred weaving a web of lies over the fact that he was unable to muster up the guts to help his brother.
Fred's shame takes the form of outright panic when it look as though everyone, from his family to his friends, will learn the truth about his inaction, and "Courage" unfolds as Fred comes to terms with inadequacies that he'd been burying underneath blustery bravado. The stoic Robert Wieckiewicz anchors the film as Fred, opting not for big, noisy epiphanies that ultimately ring false, but a gradual self-awareness of harsh realities. (Saturday, November 17, 6:30 p.m.)
Imagine the swoony holiday ensemble romance "Love Actually" transplanted from London to Warsaw and you've got Mitja Okorn's predictable but lovely "Letters To Santa," which takes place on Christmas Eve amongst a gaggle of attractive lonelyhearts. Chief among them is Mikolaj (the charming Maciej Stuhr), a radio DJ and widowed dad with a cute moppet of a son who spouts encouraging albeit questionable statistics like "Six out of five women agree to go on a date with a stranger."
That particular stranger is Doris (Roma Gasiorowska from "My Name Is Ki"), getting ready to spend the holiday alone when she's pelted with one of Cupid's snowballs. There's also a childless couple, an unhappy family, a couple of neglected kids, a mean Santa, and — oh, you get it. It's fluffy, it's fun, and there's never any doubt about the happily-ever-after, which is sometimes exactly what you need. (Sunday, November 18, 3 p.m.)
Poland's official Best Foreign Language Film submission for the upcoming Academy Awards is Waldemar Krzystek's "80 Million," a gripping, fact-based story set in 1980 Wroclaw, just before Communist military junta leader Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in his showdown with Lech Walesa's pro-democracy Solidarity movement. The film revolves around the daring efforts of four young activists to withdraw — and, just as importantly, stash for future use — 80 million zlotys in Solidarity funds before the account got frozen by the opposition.
I'm not gonna lie; "80 Million" isn't always easy to follow, and it takes a while to figure out who's who, what they're up to, and why. (A casual familiarity with these true-life events wouldn't hurt.) Once you're on board, however, it's like a tense heist film, a cat-and-mouse game between the two sides, with a double agent or two thrown in for good measure. (Monday, November 19, 7 p.m.)