The Rochester Polish Film Festival returns for its 17th annual chapter this week, offering a program of interesting, thought-provoking films that make up the best of what contemporary Polish cinema has to offer. The Festival officially started Saturday, November 1, and Sunday, November 2, with screenings of two classic Polish films; this week begins the screenings of more recent films, and the brunt of the festival.
In two years of covering the film festival (sponsored by the University of Rochester's Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies) it's quickly become a festival I eagerly look forward to. Each year, the festival consistently brings Rochester a lineup of films that are challenging, entertaining, and characteristic of Poland's vibrant film community.
This year's program is made up of seven feature-length films, and each of the screenings will be held at The Little Theatre. Tickets are $9 general admission, $7 for students, and are available at The Little's box office. For more information visit facebook.com/skalny.center, or contact the Skalny Center by phone at 275-9898.
With "Waesa: Man of Hope" (Thursday, November 6, 7 p.m.) celebrated director Andrzej Wajda offers the third part of a thematic trilogy (following his landmark films "Man of Marble" and "Man of Iron," both screened by the festival this past weekend) centered around Poland's unions and the working-class' battle against communist oppression. A biography of trade-union leader Lech Waesa — and founder of the Solidarity movement — the film follows the cocky, cantankerous, yet oddly charming leader's life from his days as a shipyard electrician to winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Wajda delivers an enjoyable, frequently-stirring film boasting a fantastic, charismatic lead performance from Robert Wickiewicz.
The award-winning "Life Feels Good" (Friday, November 7, 7 p.m.) follows the life of a man, Mateusz, (David Ogrodnik) with cerebral palsy, and his lifelong struggle to be treated with dignity by those who can't look past his disability to see the thoughtful, intelligent man. We hear Mateusz's interior monologue throughout, showing us what a smart, funny, and sensitive soul he is and allowing us to more keenly feel his frustration at being unable to communicate with those around him. For such traditionally tear-jerking subject matter, writer-director Maciej Pieprzyca brings a unexpectedly light touch to the material, crafting a film with as much humor as heart.
Director Roman Polanski's wickedly entertaining battle of the sexes, "Venus in Fur" (Saturday, November 8, 6:30 p.m.) was reviewed by me earlier this year, and it remains just as great as I remember. Centered around an escalating game of dominance between a theater director and the actress auditioning for him, the film creates a thrillingly provocative exploration of gender roles and power dynamics.
The tense, engrossing drama, "The Word," (Saturday, November 8, 8:30 p.m.) provides a dark portrait of teenage love and revenge as a young girl (Eliza Rycembel) forces her unfaithful boyfriend to prove his loyalty in order to win back her affections. Director Anna Kazejak's somewhat detached directing style frequently leaves Lila's inner thoughts inscrutable, making her a particularly cold and unsympathetic protagonist, and the script feels compelled to offers a disappointingly literal explanation for her behavior, but the film remains absorbing to the end. Anna Kazejak will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.
In its unsparing depiction of alcoholism and addiction in the life of a revered but troubled author (Robert Wickiewicz, in another fine performance), "The Mighty Angel" (Sunday, November 9, 3 p.m.) strikes an odd balance between heightened, literary dialogue and grotesque imagery (director Wojciech Smarzowski clearly relishes depicting the more unsavory side effects of addiction). When combined with its fragmented narrative, the result is a tone meant to keep its audience off-balance, a draining — if accurate — representation of the mindset of an addict.
The Polish Film Festival also brings Rochester audiences one last opportunity to catch Pawel Pawlikowski's acclaimed drama, "Ida," (Sunday, November 9, 7 p.m.) on the big screen. The film, about a young would-be nun who learns just prior to taking her vows that she's actually Jewish, received a rave review from City's George Grella a few months back, calling it a "small, somber masterpiece." With a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars all but guaranteed, it's essential viewing for any film buff. Even better, lead actress Agata Trzebuchowska will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
The festival closes out with the period dramedy "One Way Ticket to the Moon" (Monday, November 10, 7 p.m.). Set in the late 1960's, the film follows the road trip undertaken by two brothers — young, naive Adam and older, worldly Antoni (Filip Plawiak and Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, respectively) — after Adam is drafted into the Polish navy. Despite an odd tonal shift in its third act, the film is lively and engaging, succeeding largely thanks to its likeable lead actors.